Mining for diversity

Image: St Barbara

Gender diversity is not a corporate catchphrase when it comes to the mining sector’s forerunners. Women in leading positions at BHP, Fortescue and St Barbara lay out their achievements, but also point out that more needs to be done. Vanessa Zhou writes.

According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Australia is the first country in the world to achieve 30 per cent gender diversity in its top 100 boardrooms – an achievement made without regulatory intervention or quotas.

Companies are voluntarily making their commitment to gender diversity, with women occupying nearly 30 per cent of all ASX200 companies’ board position last year, a 10 per cent improvement since 2015.

Accordingly, mining companies are starting to realise the benefits of having a workforce that’s reflective of the communities where they operate.

BHP has seen the results its diverse teams deliver, where these operations outperformed the company average on safety, productivity and culture, according to BHP head of planning and Women in Mining and Resources Queensland (WIMARQ) chair Maria Joyce.

WIMARQ chair Maria Joyce. Image: BHP

“You can see from the companies which are doing this well that they know the value [diversity] brings. People are much more engaged, more willing to share ideas and work together to solve challenges,” Joyce says.

BHP in 2016 set an aspirational goal to achieve gender balance across the company globally by 2025.

The public announcement of this goal was a disruptor to the industry status quo and challenged the thinking of the sector, according to Joyce, the winner of BGC Contracting Contribution to Mining Award at the 2018 Australian Mining Prospect Awards.

“By the end of the 2018 financial year, 915 more women were employed at BHP than the same time the previous year – it’s something we are proud of, but we remain laser focused on the challenge we’ve set ourselves. We still have a long way to go,” she says.

Unfortunately, female turnover remains comparably high across the entire mining industry. This remains an obstacle to companies that are trying to achieve a gender diverse culture.

To combat the issue, BHP has focused on promoting flexible work options, something Joyce has seen make a real impact on lifting the industry’s attractiveness. However, a flexible work schedule is only one of many factors that fosters inclusive environments that are supportive of women.

“It is important to work for a leader and organisation that is aligned with your values and genuinely understands the balance of wanting a challenging and fulfilling career while balancing it with valuable family time,” Joyce says.

Fortescue’s first female chief executive Elizabeth Gaines echoes this message. Gaines says that setting the tone for an inclusive, flexible workplace starts with leaders “genuinely understanding the needs of individual team members.”

This can come in a variety of flexible working options including job share, part-time and flexible start and finish times.

“These options should not just apply to an office-based workforce, but should extend to all roles, including those on shift work or a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) roster,” Gaines says.

In fact, she’s proud to be “part of a company that has introduced a number of leading workplace diversity initiatives,” including the 24-hour Fortescue Family Room and flexible working arrangements.

Flexible work has seen a corresponding positive effect in the form of employee retention at St Barbara, recipient of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) ‘employer of choice for gender equality’ citation for the fifth consecutive year.

St Barbara extends its flexible working arrangements to accommodate the needs of both male and female employees through parental leave provisions, talent acquisition strategy and leadership development programs. These are all geared towards achieving greater diversity and inclusion.

The result has seen the number of women in corporate-based roles increasing from 30 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent currently, and the number of women in operational roles quadrupling since 2010, according to company general manager HR and HSEC Val Madsen.

St Barbara stresses the importance of workers’ psychological health in creating a secure work environment. Image: St Barbara

One hundred per cent of St Barbara’s Australian employees have returned to work following a period of parental leave since 2009. Moreover, the number of females in leadership roles has lifted by five per cent over the last 12 months.

St Barbara’s has achieved 25 per cent  representation of women in its Australian operation and 50:50 gender composition in corporate offices – a big achievement in itself. But this trend is difficult to maintain in sites that rely on a FIFO workforce, Madsen says.

There is a “deception” of the mining industry that often portrays “a big hole of dirt and a big truck” and communicates long periods away from family in FIFO arrangements.

“We’ve really tried to address that to change the perception of women in mining, right down through to people in early age,” Madsen tells Australian Mining.

“We’re doing work in primary and secondary schools to encourage children to think about careers in mining, because we are certainly concerned about the drop in children taking STEM subjects but also those in mining engineering – that’s all impacting our mining industry.”

St Barbara has also conducted gender safety audits at its Simberi operations in Papua New Guinea over the last three years, and introduced the concept to the Australian sites last year.

The audits are designed to raise awareness of gender-based risks and to ensure safety – including psychological health – for women working in remote site environments.

Meanwhile, WIMARQ expanded its regional connections and digital presence with the aim to connect women in the isolated environments.

“2019 represents a new era for WIMARQ. With branches now in Brisbane, North West Queensland, the Bowen Basin and shortly the Surat Basin, we are in a strong position to affect positive change across the state,” Joyce says.

“While we will continue to remain true to our core to connect, nurture and support women in the sector … our long term strategic focus will expand. Just last [month] we proudly launched our new [WIMARQ] website. Our podcast series will continue and … our objectives will be strongly geared towards a theme of inclusion in 2019.”

As Gaines says, “While we are pleased to see the steady increase in our female participation rate, diversity is not simply about filling a quota.

“To achieve a truly diverse workplace, an embedded culture of inclusion is critical and this is a responsibility which lies with the entire workforce and society more broadly.”

Drilling equality at its STEM core

STEM professionals are key to Australia’s future productivity and economic competitiveness, and quoting the words of Gaines, “the resources industry in particular.”

“In order for our economy to continue to thrive we must harness the skills of the largely under-utilised pool of talent – women – who tend to be under-represented in the areas of STEM,” she explains.

Alcoa, employer of choice for gender equality 2018-2019 by the WGEA for the 17th year running, also claims to build its business success upon the technical expertise of its employees.

Alcoa chairman Michael Parker is extremely proud of the progress its company has made in creating an inclusive culture. Image: Alcoa

This is underpinned by their strong foundational knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to company managing director Michael Parker.

“We need both men and women participating in STEM if we are to continue to innovate and prosper as a society,” he adds.

“The same logic applies beyond our sector. The increasingly important role that STEM is playing across all areas of the economy is well understood.”

But there isn’t one solution, says Jan Kwak, WGEA pay equity ambassador and Hatch regional managing director, Australia-Asia.

Kwak – who signed a pledge committing to regular analysis of equity in pay – says the industry needs to ensure it is filling all gaps along the pipeline.

This means putting focus and providing support at the primary and secondary school as well as tertiary levels.

“Within Hatch, we focus on creating opportunities for women to operate in all segments of our business from junior to senior, from studies to projects to operations,” he says.

“If you truly are a gender equal and genuinely inclusive business, there’s no problem bringing in people that feel like they belong.”

Hatch firmly believes a company can’t have diversity of thought in the presence of monolithic culture. Image: Hatch

When Joyce started her career more than 10 years ago, embracing diversity and harnessing its strength has been “somewhat of a challenge”.

She believes that while there are clear benefits to including diverse perspectives in the workplace to solve problems, the focus has been on how “we ‘fix’ women in the workplace,” rather than embracing the unique leadership traits that women bring.

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to have had several senior male sponsors that inspired me to progress my career; to jump in and embrace the uncertainty,” she says.

“They looked past my appearance, my gender, and could see the enormous strength and capability I brought to the team, long before I [earned] my stripes with the operational teams.

“Creating the right environment and culture is vital to embrace diversity but to also ensure it is sustainable. Those male figures fostered the environment over a decade ago, and it taught me that sometimes people are just fearful of change and it is important we take them on that journey.”

This article also appears in the May 2019 edition of Australian Mining.

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