Bridging the gender gap

The gender gap in the mining and resources industry has not received adequate attention, though the tide is beginning to turn. Diversity is becoming less of a buzz-word and more of an imperative for companies throughout the industry who are realising the potential benefits offered?by a more even workforce. But is closing the gender gap realisable in the foreseeable future?

The resounding answer is yes, according to BHP Billiton.

In the later half of 2016, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie announced a goal that foresaw the company’s workforce becoming gender balanced by 2025.

BHP Vice-President Organisational Capability Suzan McDaniel said it was an aspirational company vision that would move BHP into the spotlight as a strongly competitive differentiator, noting it would enable individuals to feel cared for and valued across a diverse workforce.

“It’s about changing mindsets and behaviours and looking to do things differently,” Mrs McDaniel said.

“We have done some terrific analytics to look at our more inclusive operations and our more diverse operations; combined, they have significantly better safety outcomes. Due to the diversity of ideas around the table and a more inclusive environment, they have better production and performance measures and significantly lower turnover.”

Undertaking measures at both a local and global level to achieve this, the initiation of a Global Inclusion and Diversity Council has already begun to chair a cultural mindset shift comprising of a cross-section of leaders across the organisation.

“We’ve got to think big,” Mrs McDaniel said. “We cannot be incremental, we need to set a bold goal. We know that bold goals attract bold people.”

Reflecting company strategy and values, the company charter, a document that has been in existence since 1998, was changed to reflect the company movement.

“When we make decisions, we go to our charter,” Mrs McDaniel said. “We’ve added into our charter that we know we have been successful when, as a company, our teams are inclusive and diverse, and that’s a massive symbol to our organisation on the importance of this.”

As part of this, four critical macro priorities were identified that laid down the foundations for achieving a gender- balanced team.

The first is embedding flexibility into the way people work by accommodating the needs of people to help them achieve a balance between personal and work life, such as accommodating a shift around a parent that needs to pick up his/her children. The second has seen BHP establish strong breakthroughs via its contract workforce and?supply chain that support diversity and inclusion. These breakthroughs have included changing equipment types so everyone, rather than a minority, can use them.

The third priority mitigates bias in people’s practices, behaviours, systems and policies, to make decisions based on a gender-neutral field, while the fourth ensures the company brand, campaigns, imaging and overall industry is attractive to both men and women.

Demonstrating a superb example in its Western Australian iron ore business car repair shops, the company has minimised the focus on “brute strength”, to place a higher emphasis on a “gender neutral” ability to work there.

“This has really traditionally been a very male-dominated activity, where employees are typically required to pick up and utilise heavy equipment to work,” Mrs McDaniel said.

“We have come up with very innovative ideas around suspending the heavy equipment from wires on a ceiling so you don’t have to pick it up to use it, making it less about brute strength and more about how you go applying your craft, your technical skills, your functional skills – the capabilities that really matter.

“It has really enabled us to open up our talent pool when we’re recruiting.”

There’s also a strong focus on educating and inspiring women from a young age to generate interest in the sector through related subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“It’s about changing the way we teach and changing the mindset about what you can do with STEM,” Mrs McDaniel said.

“It’s a whole macro approach which is being executed by Australian Maths and Science Institute.”

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