On my first day at the Canada Peru Chamber of Commerce of the mining sector, I noticed that all the employees were women. During my placement, it came to be that I was working in an all-female office that services an industry that is almost entirely male dominated. My host organization, the Canada Peru Chamber of Commerce, has focused its attention on trying to increase women’s participation in the industry.

The mining industry is an important sector in Peru as it is a central driver of economic growth within the country. It is a main attraction for foreign investment – Peru is the world’s third largest producer of copper and silver, and Latin America’s largest producer of gold, zinc, tin, and lead. The mining sector accounts for 12% of Peru’s total GDP and employed 174, 000 workers in 2017. In terms of physical scale, 14.6% of the country’s territorial land has been licensed to mining companies (both foreign and domestic), even though mining activities only occur on 1.34% of this land.

The Chamber of Commerce’s main project in this women’s participation in the mining sector is Mujeres Roca (which translates to Women Rock), which is a program executed in Partnership with OMA (Organización Mundial de Apoyo a la Educacióna) that was developed in order to engage more women in the mining industry. The goal of the program is to contribute to the diversity of gender in management positions in the mining sector in Peru. It provides guidance by high-level professionals that are employed within the mining sector to young women that are interested in developing their knowledge and skill sets with the ultimate goal of a career in the industry. Specifically, the program aims to target young women with an academic interest in mining. This program operates on two methods of guidance – the first being a coaching workshop that strengthens the participants’ soft skills, in addition to meetings with senior executives from the mining sector that can provide high-level perspective.

Gender diversity is limited in the mining sector in Peru. Women in Peru only represent 5.4% of the total mining industry – with 50% of the women occupying administrative positions, 30% in general positions, and only 4% in management positions. Relative to Canada, where women represent 19% of the extraction industry, Peru is lagging in terms of gender diversity. According to the Global Gender Gap for 2018, Peru ranks 94th out of 149 in terms of equal economic participation and opportunity.

I asked Carla Martinez, my supervisor and the office manager of the Canada Peru Chamber of Commerce, why this is the case. She explained that the main reason for this gap is because Peru is still ‘machismo’. She said; ‘Machismo is a social construct that teaches men that they are in some kind of superior position over women. It teaches women that their position is under or beneath men’. In Peru, this manifests itself in street harassment, sexual assault, and in a less overtly violent form, job discrimination. The machismo society, she explains, ultimately preserve stereotypes that women are less capable than men in the workforce. Within this machismo culture in Peru, fewer women are hired in fields that require more labor, and in general women have been considered to be delicate and unsuitable for these types of jobs. Simultaneously, these stereotypes reinforce the belief that women are only capable of taking care of the home and the children, not for jobs that are related to machinery or heavy labor.

It is important to include women in an industry that drives the economy as much as the mining sector does. Beyond social justice, international studies have proved that investing in gender equality is profitable. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, in a situation where women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men (a “full potential” scenario), a 26% increase or $28 trillion could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. In another statistic, the report looks at a scenario where every country matched the progress toward gender parity of the fastest-improving country in its region; the incremental increase in GDP is expected to grow by 14% ($11 trillion) in Latin America.

In regards to Mujeres Roca, there was a follow-up questionnaire developed by OMA that surveyed past participants of the program. Some of the responses to the question “we would like your appreciation or comment on the program”, are as follows (translated from Spanish):

“I have always planned to opt for management positions in mining. This program formed a fundamental part in the reinforcement of this decision” –Brigitte Betty Bermudez Santander (2017)

“Receiving the advice of great people from the mining industry, allowed me to determine the next steps to be able to materialize my professional and personal goals” –Raquel Tupac Yupanqui Rivera (2017)

Having programs such as Mujeres Roca demonstrates the impact of women’s empowerment. As Christa Quiroz Cotrina, a participant of Mujeres Roca 2016, states:

“The Mujeres Roca program is an excellent opportunity to place women in the “spotlight”, that is to highlight the extraordinary strength of young women who have to overcome the greatest challenges in a world of men.”

Gender equality in employment opportunity should be driven by both social justice and economic potential. With only 5.4% of the mining industry being comprised of female employees, there is a massive oversight on 50% of a demographic that has the potential to drive the profit of one of the largest industries of the Peruvian economy. Mujeres Roca demonstrates that female empowerment plays an important role in encouraging and supporting women to go out and achieve their goals. Perhaps it even has the potential to one day to shift an entire cultural view of the mining sector, from a machismo industry to one that is gender diverse.