More Peters and Pauls than Marys

Outgoing chief executive of Fortescue Metals Group, Elizabeth Gaines, has once again stressed the importance of gender equality in the mining industry.

It has become a topic she has addressed for each of the past four years she has spoken to delegates at the annual Diggers and Dealers conference in Western Australia.

This year only five out of the 71 speakers were women, an observation that kindled the flames even stronger.

“When I was appointed CEO of Fortescue, media coverage often highlighted my gender – that I was the first female CEO of the company,” she said.

“In fact, at the time, there were more male CEOs of ASX-listed companies named ‘John’ or ‘David’ than there were female CEOs.

“And unfortunately, little has changed since then.

“Five out of the 71 speakers equates to just seven per cent, and clearly this is not representative of our society or even our industry.

“And over this three-day event, you will hear from more speakers who have the name Mark and Peter than you will from women.

“If you had asked me at the start of my professional career whether I thought I would still be talking about gender diversity in 2022, I would have thought that we would be living it by now.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that we are still having the same conversations about equality that we had 30, 20 and 10 years ago.”

Gaines said that change had been hard fought and slow, and the equal representation that was hoped to have been achieved by now has not eventuated.

“We cannot be complacent and assume that diversity is going to happen by accident,” she said.

“I’m proud that Fortescue is one of few large ASX-listed companies with women comprising half of our Board.

“We know that diversity delivers the best results. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

“And as companies, we all have a responsibility to ensure as many women as possible have the opportunity to participate in, and make a strong contribution, to the resources sector.”

Last week Fortescue was recognised for the third consecutive year as among the best companies globally for women to advance, with inclusion in the 2022 Best Companies for Women to Advance list.

And in 2019, it was also one of the first companies in Australia to sign the Parity Pledge, which brings gender equality to the highest levels of business by committing to interview at least one qualified woman for every executive position.

“Like many of you, I was deeply concerned by the findings from the Parliamentary Inquiry into sexual harassment at mining operations in Western Australia,” Gaines said.

“Fortescue has a strong culture that is built on integrity and respect, and we are committed to ensuring we are providing a safe and inclusive work environment.

“We acknowledge that we, as an organisation contributing to the wider community, can always do more.

“As an industry, we must ensure we have a workforce that is reflective of our community, which fosters a workplace culture that truly embraces diversity and inclusiveness.

“And it is critical that we use forums such as Diggers to set the standard.

“Research has shown that more women in key decision-making positions delivers better company performance, greater productivity, and greater profitability.

“And while women are progressing into management roles at a faster rate than men, we are still some 80 years away from seeing an equal share of women in the position of CEO.

“The mining sector is no longer just high vis and big trucks – it’s high tech.

“The introduction of innovation and technology has changed the mining sector significantly – it’s now a high-technology industry, requiring skills that are in high demand.

“There’s intense demand for people with skills in statistics, analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

“Which is why it’s more important than ever that we equip the workforce of the future for these types of jobs and attract the best and the brightest minds from across the diversity of our population.”

Gaines will become a non-executive director at Fortescue and take on a newly-created role as Fortescue Future Industries’ Global Ambassador.

About Ray Chan

Editor of industrial titles and mastheads with Prime Creative Media. Publications include Rail Express and Australian Mining (web content).

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