Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity

THE case for getting women onto boards and into executive roles in the mining sector received a big boost when BHP Billiton announced plans last month to become gender balanced by 2025.
Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity Industry slowly making progress on gender diversity

Kristie Batten

Last month at its London annual general meeting, BHP chairman Jac Nasser announced that the company was working to achieve gender balance at every level of the organisation by 2025.

"Your board takes inclusion and diversity seriously," he said.

"There is a business case for this. Studies show that operations which are more inclusive and diverse achieve better performance, and our own data supports this.

CEO Andrew Mackenzie acknowledged that it was an ambitious and challenging goal.

"While we have made progress we still aren't as inclusive or diverse as we could be," he said.

"Without new initiatives it would take us 30 years just to get to 30% female representation. More must, and will be done."

The announcement came in the same week as a joint EY and Women in Mining UK report found that women hold just 9% of board positions among the top global 30 mining and metals companies by market capitalisation.

EY Oceania Mining & Metals leader Scott Grimley said diversity was critical to unlocking productivity gains and drive innovation, but there was much more work to be done.

"While progress has been made decisive action is needed now to really shift the needle," he said.

"To remain competitive in a volatile and disruptive market, mining and metals companies must take serious steps when it comes to diversity to secure future earnings and ensure their talent pipeline is the best it can be."

Analysis by Strictly Boardroom columnist Allan Trench earlier this year found that of the top 100 listed mining companies on the ASX, a whopping 68 had no women on their boards.

Gold miners Northern Star Resources, Regis Resources and WPG Resources have rectified the situation in recent weeks, appointing Shirley Int Veld, Fiona Morgan and Helen Wiseman to their respective boards.

Resolute Mining hinted that it may be on the same path last week when it said a board renewal process would focus on diversity.

Lithium miners have also improved this year, with Orocobre appointing Leanne Heywood to the board, while Neometals welcomed Natalia Streltsova. Graphite player Syrah Resources appointed Dr Christina Lampe Onnerud to its board.

The Minerals Council of Australia also appointed Dr Vanessa Guthrie as its first female chair.

Fortescue Metals Group is a company that already leads the way in diversity, with a whopping five of its 11 (soon-to-be nine) directors women, the first ASX top 20 company to have five female directors.

The company recently conducted a session for women wishing to return to the workforce after having children.

And for the first time, FMG has started reporting diversity levels in its September quarterly report, confirming the company has a 16% female participation rate.

"We're very focused on reviewing all areas of the business to ensure we have very inclusive worksites," CEO Nev Power said last month.

"We're looking at ways of increasing the pool we have to recruit from."

EY Oceania Mining & Metals middle market leader Rachel Charles said research found that only 56% of survey respondents believed their organisation was effective at identifying, retaining and promoting female leaders, and 55% agreed their company could do more to improve gender diversity.

"Companies cannot afford to navigate disruption now and in the future without the benefits gender diversity can bring," Charles said.

"Many other industries have made meaningful change when it comes to female representation at board and C-suite levels.

"The time for rhetoric alone has passed. It is possible to accelerate this agenda and achieve gender parity - but the mining and metals industry must commit to real change today or risk going backwards."

Separate research shows that there's a lot more to be done at the junior end.

More than a third of respondents in Grant Thornton's recent JUMEX survey this year saw diversity as not at all important or only slightly important.

EY and WIM identified seven guiding principles to advance women into leadership roles across the mining sector.

Those principles are:

  • Lead with sponsorship, support with mentoring
  • Nominate leaders to lead the program
  • Encourage talent at all career stages
  • Overcome the geographic disparity roadblock
  • Measure the results
  • Empower women to help themselves
  • Keep it low cost