After just one week at a new job, Carmen Andrews was horrified when she took off her helmet to find her hair was falling out.
- Mining giant BHP set a target of a 50-50 workforce target for 2025
- While changes have been made, many women report the industry still primarily caters to men
- Some women say that simple things like hair breakage from the site can be a subtle deterrent
Ms Andrews had worked as a cleaner in mines for a decade, but a new position required her to don a hard hat for the first time.
“I panicked … my hair was getting rubbed off,” Ms Andrews said.
She quickly found out she was not alone, with other workers, both men and women, saying this was just “what happens”.
But Ms Andrews said losing her hair at 60 was not an option.
“I don’t get paid [enough] to have my hair worn off,” she said.
Fortunately, Ms Andrews stumbled across a simple but game-changing product — silk bonnets.
She said if she hadn’t found the bonnets, she would have gone looking for a new job.
“A job isn’t worth your hair,” Ms Andrews said.
The woman behind the silk bonnet business, Vivienne Te Kata, came up with the idea after similar experiences wearing hard hats.
“[I remember thinking] ‘Oh my god, my hair just broke — how the hell am I going to get my hair to grow back?'” she said.
Mrs Te Kata said her hair had rubbed off to just an inch thick on the band where the helmet sat.
She later stumbled across two younger women wearing hair protection under their helmets, and her idea for silk bonnets was born.
Within two months, she had made and sold 180 of the hair bonnets.
She said the business snowballed so quickly her husband was helping her to keep up with demand.
“It was just word of mouth [initially],” Mrs Te Kata said.
But since realising their popularity, she has started to advertise the product in mining groups on Facebook.
“The response has been amazing,” Mrs Te Kata said.
“It’s unbelievable — I’m just blown away.”
One of Mrs Te Kata’s clients is Fiona Rundle, an underground operator and emergency response crew member in South Australia.
Before she began using the hair bonnets, Ms Rundle said she felt like The Simpsons character Krusty the Clown.
Ms Rundle said the harsh environment of the mines meant she was having to spend more on specialised hair products to mitigate the damage.
“It’s bad enough [being] covered in grease and dirt and looking like a swamp monster on your days at work; you don’t want to look like that on your days off as well,” she said.
Ms Rundle, who has been in the industry for more than a decade, said more needed to be done to support women in the sector.
She said feminine hygiene underground was an issue for many women but one that was not spoken about publicly.
“Having bathrooms available, in the past there was only a limited number of bathrooms, and you still can’t always get to a bathroom,” she said.
“Men have just always been able to find a dark corner somewhere … and woman can’t always do that.”
A kilometre underground
Ms Rundle said if women got their period while underground, there was not often access to hygiene products.
“You can’t just duck down to the shop … you’re a kilometre underground,” she said.
But Ms Rundle said she had seen some positive change.
“There was always just the standard PPE, but of course the men’s stuff doesn’t always fit women,” she said.
“They’ve recently brought in female-size pants and shirts … that took them a long time though.”
Katrina Lee Jones from the Queensland Resources Council says the industry has come a long way when it comes to gender equality on site.
“Back in 2005, 6 per cent of women made up the workforce, and as of this year with the new data that we have coming through this is 22 per cent of women,” Ms Jones said.
She said many companies now supplied feminine hygiene products and women-tailored uniforms were becoming widely available.
She pointed to Women in Mining Resources Queensland’s mentoring program, which is quickly growing.
But Ms Jones thinks the biggest obstacle going forward for women in the industry is trying to attract them.
“There is so much competition out there,” she said.