Debate urges broader thinking on diversity

THE Gold Industry Group’s Women in Gold debate was held in Perth on Friday night, with 300 people flocking to the Perth Mint for the annual event.
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Raleigh Finlayson speaking at the Gold Industry Group's Women in Gold debate in Perth

Despite its name, the debate focused on broader themes of diversity, based around the topic ‘a diversity debate that begins and ends with gender is doomed to fail'.

Saracen Mineral Holdings managing director Raleigh Finlayson kicked off the debate, which comprised 10 minute speeches from four speakers, which also included West Coast Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich, geology student and president of Women in Mining and Resources Curtin president Tashana Jones, and Newmont Goldcorp Australia tax director Matthew Popham.

Finlayson said diverse workforces weren't just about gender, but also Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders and people with disabilities.

While Finlayson urged people to not just look at diversity as a numbers game, he did have some sobering statistics.

He said 38% of Australians had a long-term health condition or disability.

The participation rate for people with disabilities is only 47%, versus 83% for non-disabilities.

Only 1.4% of people working in mining have a disability.

"In the gold industry, we overcome challenges … we might not have someone in a wheelchair working underground for safety reasons but what stops them from working in the surface operations?" Finlayson said.

And according to Finlayson, mining is still only the 10th-largest employer of Aboriginals.

"Who is going into bat for these people?

"All they want for Christmas is an opportunity."

Popham said attitudes were slowly changing, thanks to the gender diversity debate.

"Society hasn't been ready to have the disability debate," he said.

"Gender diversity has brought about an evolution of thinking and we're about to be ready."

Jones said the industry was suffering from diversity fatigue.

"The focus on gender has created a backlash which has impeded progress," she said.

"People who don't understand it, resist it."

She said diversity workshops in some workplaces could leave men feeling attacked.

Jones suggested workplaces could do more to educate employees on the benefits of diverse workforces.

Marinkovich said while there was a still a long way to go, industry should still celebrate the progress made.

For the first time, the debate will move to Sydney on Thursday night and Melbourne on Friday night.