Inclusion and Diversity in Australian Geoscience

Australian Institute of Geoscientists > Employment > Inclusion and Diversity in Australian Geoscience


Inclusion and Diversity is a concept receiving considerable attention in modern workplaces.  Australian exploration and mining sector workplaces are no exception.  A growing number of companies are coming to consider the promotion of inclusion and diversity in workplaces essential to business success and take proactive steps to promote underlying principles and values.  Views of what inclusion and diversity means in the context of Australian geoscience is subject to varying interpretations and views, although it’s probably fair to say that this is true for many other professions also.

The concept of inclusion and diversity means different things to different groups.  Diversity encompasses issues of gender, ethnicity, generation, sexual orientation, national status, disabilities, employment tenure and level within an organization.  Essentially, diversity facilitates blending of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives within a team.  Inclusion is perhaps best defined as support for a collaborative environment that values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives that has a positive impact on business. Management in an inclusive organisation is transparent, communicative and engaging.  Organizations are considered to need to embrace inclusion and diversity principles to foster innovation that, in turn, promotes best use of the organizations talent, drives productivity, delivers continuous improvement and creates value in a real sense.

These concepts have been gaining prominence over the past decade and more.  The International Association for Geoscience Diversity (IAGD) was formed in 2008 specifically to improve access to the geosciences for individuals with disabilities and promote communities of inclusive research, instruction and student support (, a reflection of the growing interest in the value and awareness of the need for greater inclusion and diversity in our profession.  IAGD’s stated objectives are squarely focussed on enhancing opportunities for geoscientists with disabilities, but the association’s work and interests appear to be gradually becoming more widely focussed.

The 2016 Census revealed that more than 50% of Australians were, themselves, or have at least one parent born overseas, which clearly puts the issue of ethnic diversity in the spotlight.  The most simplistic view of gender diversity is that workplaces should provide employment opportunities that are not constrained by gender.  This is not, however, synonymous with saying that equal proportions of professional roles should be filled by men and women.  Qualifications, skills and experience have an influence on the population available to different professions.  Gender diversity within professions is an important consideration and is, currently, very dynamic.  Attitudes to diversity need to keep pace with continuously changing circumstances.

Sources of Data

AIG’s membership database and employment survey data provide very useful insights into diversity, particularly in Australian exploration and mining, but also in other sectors of our profession.

Overall, men comprise 86% of AIG’s Fellows, Members, Graduates, Students and Retired members, women 14% (Figure 1).  This split, however, varies considerably by generation. Women comprise 12% of AIG Members and Fellows (by definition members with at least 15 years of professional experience for Fellows, and more than 5 years professional experience in the case of Members), but comprise 29% of Graduate members (less than five years experience since graduation) and 34% of Student members (the future of our profession) (Figure 2).


Figure 1.  AIG Membership by Gender (Fellow, Member, Graduate, Student and Retired members). A very small number of members also elect to be identified as neither men nor women.


Figure 2. Representation of Women in each AIG membership grade.


Clearly, geoscience is becoming progressively more diverse, with an increasing proportion of women in the ranks of early professionals.

It’s useful to examine some other diversity and inclusion metrics to assess how Australian geoscience is developing.

There are essentially no differences evident between the breakdown of geoscience qualifications attained by men and women.  Around 16% of members hold Bachelor degrees as their highest qualification and around 35% hold Honours degrees.  Some six to seven percent have gone on to attain a Graduate Diploma, 26% a Masters degree and about 15% a PhD as their highest qualification (Figure 3).  There are clearly barriers to inclusion and diversity on the basis of education.


Figure 3. Highest academic qualifications attained by AIG members

The unemployment rate amongst women geoscientists in the June 2017 AIG Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey was 7.9%, significantly lower than the overall unemployment rate recorded by the survey of 11.3%.

Looking at professional experience, in simple numerical terms there are more men than women in every category, simply reflecting the current gender split in Australian geoscience (Figure 4).  There are several interesting observations that can be drawn from this chart:

  • The greatest numbers of women geoscientists have between 5 – 15 years experience;
  • The number of women with 15-20 years experience falls (as it does for men) before increasing again for between 20 – 30 years experience;
  • The number of women geoscientists with 30 or more years experience is lower than for other experience categories; and,
  • Fewer graduates are taking on professional geoscientific roles.


Figure 4. Current gender diversity by years of professional experience.

The same data, grouped by gender, possibly paints a more interesting picture (Figure 5).  Amongst young professionals with 0 – 5 years experience, the proportion of men and women, as a percentage of the gender group, is very similar.  The proportion of women with 5 – 15 years experience is much higher than for men, while it is lower for between 15 – 20 years experience, and again similar for geoscientists with between 20 – 30 years experience.


Figure 5. Proportion of geoscientists within gender groups vs years of professional experience.

The data presented in Figure 4 and Figure 5 can be interpreted to reflect the cyclical nature of geoscience employment opportunities.  Employment conditions in exploration and mining over the past five years have, without doubt, prevented new talent from taking on geoscience careers.  The same factors are considered likely to be responsible for the low numbers of geoscientists with between 15-20 years experience.  Women leaving work to support young families is frequently raised as an issue hampering greater diversity in the workforce generally but it’s difficult to see any evidence to support this proposal in these results, especially considering the data for geoscientists with between 5-15 years experience.

Basis and fields of employment also warrant examination in considering this issue.   Figure 6 shows that there are only minor differences in the proportion of women and men in full-time, part-time and self-employment.  The main difference is evident in part-time employment but this doesn’t comprise a great number of roles.  The figures may, however, suggest that part time employment could be being used a means of accessing more flexible working arrangements by a very limited number of geoscientists.


Figure 6. Employment Basis by Gender.

The selection of different professional sectors by men and women presented in Figure 7 shows that the proportion of women geoscientists working in mineral exploration is much lower than for men, but the opposite is evident in energy resource exploration (coal, oil and natural gas), as it is in government and teaching and research.  This may reflect an ability to access more flexible working arrangements, and perhaps more rapid adoption of inclusion and diversity principles by organizations in these sectors.


Figure 7. Proportion of men and women working in different professional sectors.

Finally, Figure 8 examines employment of women and men by the different types of enterprise examined by each AIG employment survey.  There are some profound differences evident in the data presented.  The proportion of women working for large enterprises (major exploration and mining companies) is much lower than the proportion of men.  Women in the geoscience workforce are more engaged in geoscience employment by mid-tier exploration and mining companies, and medium to large consulting and contracting firms.  The junior exploration and mining sector fares better than their major counterparts, but lag their mid-tier competitors.  Small consulting and contracting firms also lag their larger counterparts.  The reasons for this could be many and varied.  In the case of large vs mid-tier vs junior exploration and mining companies, factors such as commercial agility, human resources policies and attitudes to workplace flexibility may be a good place to start looking for differences that have contributed to the differences evident in the data.  Exploration and mining companies may also be more asset and project than people-focussed, perhaps by having access to a broader skills base within their workforces.  Consulting and contracting companies are, conversely, essentially people-based businesses whose success very much depends on their ability to deliver results and attract repeat business, which requires investment in people, retention of key staff and building capability, all of which are non-monetary but tanglibe forms of reward for employees.


Figure 8. Proportion of men and women employed by different types of enterprise.

There is an interesting discussion to be had around this point.  If promotion of inclusion and diversity in workplaces essential to business success there are clearly enterprises employing geoscientists in Australia starting well behind their competitors.


There are clearly issues around the value and benefits of pursuing greater inclusion and diversity in Australian geoscience.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Embracing greater diversity.  The situation in our profession is clearly very dynamic.  It’s not unrealistic to think that the current proportion of women in the Australian geoscience community will at least double over the next decade and continue to increase beyond that point, with improved diversity being reflected in more flexible and welcoming workplaces that attract increased interest from under-represented groups.
  • Education is not a barrier to increased gender diversity in Australian workplaces.  The limiting factor is the number of women being attracted to geoscience careers.
  • A gap in the available data affects the examination of opportunities for career progression by people in under-represented groups which should be expected to have a major impact on career prospects and perception of opportunities.  Women are represented across the complete spectrum of industry experience but this does not equate to management levels in enterprises.  A lack of opportunity in this area may be reflected in there being so few women with 30 or more years of experience working in geoscience occupations, which was one of the most striking features of the employment survey data.

This discussion was largely confined to gender, which is but one aspect of the overall inclusion and diversity discussion that our profession needs to have.  Organisations starting to consider and discuss diversity and inclusion as an issue tend, however, to start with gender as it’s the issue on which most information is typically available.  What the right level of gender diversity is for an organisation is frequently where the discussion starts.  Obviously, this needs to reflect the community from which the organisation draws requisite qualifications and experience.  50:50 is, arguably, rarely the most appropriate answer.  Organisations need to understand the communities they draw upon and structure their approach to the issue in an informed way, bearing in mind that this is something that will not be static.  Organisations of all shapes and sizes need to monitor developments and have an agile approach to the issue.

Clearly, the composition of new talent selecting geoscience as the basis of their career is changing rapidly and the challenge facing our profession is to truly embrace this change.

Join a discussion of this topic via the AIG Linkedin group or website (  Members with experience of diversity and inclusion issues in their career have a real ability and opportunity to help shape thinking and attitudes for the better.

Andrew Waltho 

Reproduced from AIG News 129, September 2017, available here.