Engineer lands prestigious scholarship to study gender discrimination in mining

USask PhD student Jocelyn Peltier-Huntley has been awarded a 2021 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

When Jocelyn Peltier-Huntley started her career as a mechanical engineer, she quickly noticed being the only woman professional engineer on a mine site and often the only woman in a meeting room.

Men didn’t always treat her the same as their male co-workers and, when she moved into leadership roles, she realized women were often paid less than their male counterparts and were often evaluated differently for their work.

“I knew I needed to help address this problem sitting before me,” Peltier-Huntley said, 

Peltier-Huntley left her job as a professional mechanical engineer in 2017 after 13 years in the mining industry and started a master’s degree at USask that looked at the challenges involved in closing the gender gap in the Canadian mining industry. This involved conducting a nation-wide survey of men and women with ties to mining.

Even though companies were pledging to increase the number of women in their workforce, this often wasn’t happening in practice and turnover rates of women workers was high, Peltier-Huntley found. In addition, instances of workplace discrimination and harassment were underreported and not being handled well.

“If there was a health and safety issue where there was a risk of somebody getting hurt, usually the work would shut down until the problem was solved. That just doesn't seem to be the case with discrimination and harassment issues,” Peltier-Huntley said.

Peltier-Huntley, part of the interdisciplinary studies program, is now building on her findings in her PhD, with Jeanie Wills and John Moffat from the Graham School of Professional Development co-supervising her project. 

As a Vanier Scholar, Peltier-Huntley will receive $150,000 over three years. She is one of three USask students who received the Vanier this year. 

She aims to find ways to change workplace culture in the mining industry to make it more inclusive for under-represented groups such as women and Indigenous people. She will interview people in the mining industry who are championing inclusion in the workplace and then implement their recommendations with engineering students at USask and a mine site in Saskatchewan.

“Helping people develop the skills and tools they need so they can be supporters—that’s one thing that I really want to see come out of my PhD work,” Peltier-Huntley said. “Because if we only rely on people who are in underrepresented groups to fix the culture, we’re going to be waiting a long time to see change.”

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