Beware the female tokenism

*Image Credit - Woman on a Pedestal - Art print by Felicity Larsson 

I am bubbling over with excitement as I open the paper, I never buy the actual paper but today is a special day. I am sitting in my car, in the carpark of the underground mine where I work taking this moment before my full workday ahead and kitted out in my Hi-Viz workwear. The carpark looks out on some glorious and fragrant gum trees and is right beside a tall old ghost building that used to be where the trucks would load the mined material for transport.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of conversations with leaders who are not usually in my sphere, and it’s been incredible. I am on top of the world, this is a dream come true and I don’t think anything can bring me down today!

In the past, I have shied away from the limelight in my 10 years working underground, but I often seem to find myself thrust into it. I am an anomaly I guess, a woman working underground who can speak the lingo and hold her own in what has traditionally been a male-dominated arena. I started as an underground geologist working 12 hour shifts in the hot, humid, dusty, and tough working conditions as the only women. I loved what I did, which involved keeping the mine moving through the target mineral efficiently and monitoring conditions to keep my workmates safe. I am now a Geotechnical Engineer, who makes sure the roof stays above people’s heads and the walls stay where they are, again to keep my workmates safe.

After the operations personnel get over their initial shock, they quickly realise I know my shit and I slip easily into the role of a leader. There are men who push back, test and try to one-up me, but they fail to have an impact, and I eat them for breakfast. I am no rookie, I’ve learned how to ensure nothing chinks this armour I carry around, and how to make sure I collaborate with those doing the work, so the actions required get done and we stay on track. If you fail to engage, they literally just refuse to do your work and find all the excuses under the sun as to why it didn’t happen.

Three months ago, my friend Jo announced that she was entering me into the NSW Women in Mining Awards. Alongside my leadership role, I had also been moonlighting as an unofficial D&I professional. I set up women’s welcome packs with essential items for working underground in a female body, over the last few years I built the foundations for mothers returning to work after my less than adequate experience and I was even helping other companies outside of my own do this too. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but thought, why not!

A week before the awards I had prepped a speech. I thought, if I win this thing I will be standing in front of CEO’s and Senior Managers from the across whole of the NSW Mining industry and I wanted to make sure I had an impact. I wrote a short and passionate speech about the effect of good design, and the need for setting up the workplace to welcome, support and value females. I called them out on their poor female facilities which I had seen on mine tours while I was studying and told them that better facilities and functional design for females must be aligned with their spoken vision for more females in our industry. 

Two days ago, I won the award. I took a risk, did the hard and uncomfortable thing, and put my inner thoughts out there and I delivered my speech, while shaking in my shoes. It was surprisingly well received, with many people coming up to me afterward saying they didn’t even know if they had a female bath house or toilet.

I have always believed if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. I am a person who sticks by my word and always follows through, even if something is hard. So, when I opened that paper, and saw words that were not my own I was devastated. I had provided my speech for this article that I knew the local paper would be running today and couldn’t wait to see which carefully crafted words of mine were chosen.

It started well, the first quote was on point, and I was glowing.

But then, I read the second quote apparently from me, but not at all words that I had spoken.

I must have read the article about 5 times scanning it in disbelief.

Those are not my words, those are not my words…those words are ‘corporate speak’, ‘fluff’ and ‘meaningless’. WTAF!

My stomach feels sick, and I am feeling betrayed. I know media skew things to make them sound ‘better’ so I shouldn’t be surprised, but the words on that page had an impact and the essence is lost.

I was put on a pedestal, the organisation I worked for was proud of my achievement’s, but it felt like it was their achievement, not mine and the few other people that worked hard to make my ideas a reality.

They say, “you can’t be what you can’t see”, and I felt like what people were seeing wasn’t even me. The change I wanted to see couldn’t happen if I was muzzled by media and my employer.

Change comes when we take a long, hard look at ourselves and our organisations and listen to the gap where us, the minority of ‘difference’ sit, often silently. In that gap is how we are failing people, and when we can see our failures, we also see where the biggest growth can blossom.

Do you let people speak openly about where we fail, or are you too busy sharing success stories?

I see much tokenism when it comes to women in heavy industries. The one woman on site gets written about, her achievements celebrated, it gets shared far and wide on social media. It’s no surprise there is some backlash, comments like “Wonder what she did to get that promotion *winkwink” and “I doubt she earned it”. But after my experience I sometimes wonder which are her words and what company lines have been expertly woven into her dialogue?

But what does this look like on the worksite?

She may feel excited at the time, but then reflect and wonder if she did anything special, she was just doing her job. Why am I being celebrated? She can be mocked and ridiculed by her peers, because you just handed her co-workers an easy stab. She is no doubt exceptional because she has survived this long in the industry, but she may question her real worth, am I just an aspirational token gesture? Her employer may not even provide her a toilet, is that how much she is worth to them to be held up high when it suits them but not considered on any other day?

If you are going to talk the talk about inclusion, you must walk to the walk. She feels it. Her colleagues feel it. If its inauthentic, it’s a sheet of cling wrap that you see right through.

If you want to be part of an organisation that walks the walk, get in touch to make real progress in this space. And a hint, it’s not just toilets that need a re-think.     


If you are interested in improving your heavy industry workplace experience for your female employees so they thrive and everyone stays safe and healthy, get in touch for a FREE consultation through our Website or email


About Kristy

Kristy is an Award-winning Female Inclusion Expert known for her innovative ways to tear down structural workplace design barriers. As an Operator and Engineer, Kristy has survived and thrived in the harsh coal face environment. Combine her dynamic career with her exceptional passion for helping you achieve better health, safety and well being outcomes for your female heavy industry workforce, Kristy will change their lives to thrive and the face of your organisation.

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