Gender diversity in focus after Diggers

WOMEN in the mining sector – or the lack thereof – was one of the main themes of Diggers & Dealers last week.
Gender diversity in focus after Diggers Gender diversity in focus after Diggers Gender diversity in focus after Diggers Gender diversity in focus after Diggers Gender diversity in focus after Diggers

NickelSearch's Nicole Duncan speaking at Diggers

Much has been said about gender diversity in the industry this year given the damning release of the Enough is Enough report into sexual harassment in Western Australia's fly-in, fly-out mining industry and the lack of female speakers at last month's Noosa Mining Conference.

Fortunately, Diggers was more progressive on the diversity front with 22% female attendees and eight women on stage, both of which were records.

The conference opened with keynote Dr Dambisa Moyo and closed with forum owner Sharon Giorgetta.

In between was Fortescue Metals Group CEO Elizabeth Gaines, BHP Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell, NickelSearch managing director Nicole Duncan and Lynas Rare Earths boss Amanda Lacaze, as well as two female session chairs, Canaccord Genuity's Jane Tandy and Courtney Libby.

Still, as Gaines pointed out, out of 69 company presenters, female representation was just 7% though it was the most women Diggers has ever had on stage.

"Change has been hard-fought and slow, and the equal representation that we all hoped we would have achieved by now has not eventuated," Gaines said during her presentation.

All too often it is only women in the industry discussing diversity, so it was nice to see a number of male speakers highlight it in their presentations.

Evolution Mining executive chairman Jake Klein and IGO CEO Peter Bradford called out bullying and harassment, while companies including Bellevue Gold, Regis Resources and Mincor Resources referred to their above-average percentage of female employees in their presentations.

Junior explorer Great Boulder Resources showed it's punching above its weight on the diversity front with an even split of men and women on its board.

"We've got the same number of women called Melanie as there are blokes," managing director Andrew Paterson said.

Geoscientist/geochemist Heidi Pass and geologist and Regis director Lynda Burnett studied the board composition of companies presenting at Diggers.

Their research found that of the 69 companies, 21 still had all-male boards.

The total board members across all presenting companies totaled 23% female, leaving Pass and Burnett to suggest that organisers only select companies to present in future if they had at least one female director.

While there are plenty of women who have never attended Diggers and won't due to negative perceptions, there were still a number of women there this year who attended for the first time, including NickelSearch's Nicole Duncan and Anova Metals executive director Amanda Buckingham.

Both told MNN it was an overwhelmingly positive experience and beneficial from a business point of view. Both plan to return in the future.

However, Duncan said she witnessed behaviours that reminded her how far the mining industry and Australian society in general has to go to ensure that all people are treated respectfully and have access to equal opportunity.

"In order to protect the industry and jobs that we love, we each should reflect daily on whether we met the standard of ‘just being decent people' - ‘was I part of the problem, or part of the solution?'" she said.

"For me, the next time an incredibly lewd suggestion is made in the guise of a joke, instead of ignoring the comment (which is what I've done for 25 years), I'll remark on the change that we together need to make."

The issue of women in the mining sector was at the forefront again yesterday when Kalgoorlie Miner deputy editor Amber Lilley wrote that she was groped and propositioned after hours at Diggers.

The news made the front page of The West Australian yesterday.

Lilley's experiences were all too familiar, both to myself, and other women in the industry.

I was shaken after experiencing similar bad behaviour only days after the release of the Enough is Enough report.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA apologised to Lilley and reiterated its commitment to eliminating bad behaviour.

"This type of behaviour has no place in any part of society, including extensions of the work environment," acting CME CEO Rob Carruthers said.

"CME and its member companies condemn this behaviour in the strongest terms and we again reiterate our commitment to ensuring it is not only eliminated from the workplace, but from all work-related environments.

"We appreciate the work that has been done by organisers of the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum to ensure it provides a safe, respectful environment for delegates, both at the forum itself and at directly-related events.

"Employers should ensure expectations on employee behaviour is clear prior to participation in events to ensure the safety of employees and others present.

"As an industry we must do better, by continuing to educate our people about what is and isn't appropriate and by clearly calling out behaviour when it doesn't meet the required standards."

Diggers chairman Jim Walker said the forum had a zero-tolerance policy towards such behaviour.

"We have an expectation that all forum attendees, staff and service providers will behave in a respectful and inclusive manner," he said.

"Our expectations of delegates' behaviour also extends to unaffiliated events and private functions that take place around the city during this period." 

Diggers organisers are not responsible for the behaviour of delegates at external events and this obviously isn't just a mining issue.

But the industry will continue to be male-dominated if more isn't done to promote gender diversity and inclusion and stamp out bad behaviour once and for all.