As of the end of the 2022 financial year, mining remained Australia's least diverse sector with just 20% women, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
More people than ever are talking about diversity, particularly in the wake of the release of the Western Australian government's report into sexual harassment in the mining sector, Enough is Enough.
It's difficult not to link the lack of women in the sector and reports of widespread sexual misconduct.
BDO head of global natural resources Sherif Andrawes told MNN everyone wanted progress on gender diversity.
"But we're starting from such a long way back in the industry that it's really hard to get traction - the industry has got such a bad name," he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by AusIMM chief executive Stephen Durkin at the group's International Women's Day lunch in Perth last week.
"It's clear to the AusIMM that the biggest challenge that our industry faces is not automation, it's not barriers to trade, it's not commodity prices, it's in fact treating all people with respect," he said.
"Through greater respect, we will make people feel more valued in their careers. Through greater respect, we will attract the best people, our industry and through greater respect we will build and enhance the reputation of our industry."
According to the AusIMM's 2023 Diversity and Inclusion Survey of more than 500 people, 25% of women experienced harassment in the past five years but only half reported it.
Durkin said the results were confronting.
"They should make us all feel uncomfortable and the blunt reality is that many people in our industry - men and women - often feel isolated at work and don't feel included," he said.
"Many simply do not feel safe to go to work every day and from our point of view, that is beyond alarming - that is simply unacceptable.
"While the Enough is Enough report shone a light on this aspect of our industry, we must recognise that this requires more than political and regulatory action. Change requires an industry led approach it requires a strong united leadership position."
There are positives and negatives in this year's data.
Last year, there were no ASX 200 mining companies with all-male boards, a milestone first reached in August 2021. This year, there are seven more miners in the index, including three with no female directors - Capricorn Metals, Sayona Mining and Core Lithium.
New lithium producer Core is actively working to recruit a director and improve its gender diversity.
Executive general manager, people and culture Samantha Rees said as a young organisation, the company had the opportunity to do things differently.
"Core Lithium is at an exciting point of evolution - growing into safe, sustainable operations alongside establishing leading people practices that enable diversity," she said.
"We believe diversity is fostered not by a policy or process but by creating the space and trust to have conversations about what each person needs so that they can integrate work achievements and personal ambitions, without compromising either."
Rees said the proximity of the Finniss mine to Darwin presented a great opportunity to offer workplace flexibility, particularly for women in operational roles, with women already working across leadership roles in engineering, geology and safety.
"We have a solid foundation to build on," she said.
A positive is that more companies than ever before have achieved gender parity on their boards.
Fortescue Metals Group, IGO, Whitehaven Coal and Deterra Royalties have more women than men on their boards, while BHP, Lynas Rare Earths, Iluka Resources and Sandfire Resources have achieved an even split.
There are still only two ASX 200 miners with female CEOs, the same as last year, despite the departure of Elizabeth Gaines from the top job at FMG.
Amanda Lacaze continues to lead Lynas Rare Earths, while Sherry Duhe is interim CEO of Newcrest Mining.
Just four of the ASX 200 miners have female chairs: South32, OZ Minerals, Deterra and Lynas.
"Given the critical role of the chair in guiding decision-making and setting the culture and tone for boardroom discussions, chair appointments should also be recognised as a key opportunity for setting the standard on leadership diversity," Australian Institute of Company Directors CEO Mark Rigotti said.
Lynas is the only company with a female chair and CEO and the company says its total percentage of females in management roles (not just the executive team) increased to 24% from 21% at the end of FY22, with total female employees up from 19% to 23% over the same period.
As a sign of its focus on improving gender diversity, the progress made by BHP on the issue at the top of its recent half-year results release.
As well as its board, the mining major has also achieved gender parity on its executive team.
The company set an aspirational target of achieving gender parity by FY25 back in 2016 and while it likely behind on that goal, it has nearly doubled female representation over that time to 33.6%.
Northern Star Resources has more than doubled its percentage of female senior executives in just one year.
Chief legal officer and company secretary Hilary Macdonald said a healthy, respectful culture with zero tolerance for bad behaviour was necessary to sustain and increase female employee participation.
"Offering employee benefits like generous paid parental leave, subsidising top-shelf private health insurance and seeing many employees enjoy flexible working hours are tangible examples of the importance we see in growing an inclusive culture at Northern Star," she said.
"The recent growth in the number of female senior managers and general managers at Northern Star demonstrates positive momentum and, importantly, provides more female role models for other women in the business aspiring to senior management roles - if you can see it, you can be it."
There are still five ASX 200 miners without females in their executive leadership, though one, Fortescue Metals Group, has welcomed Fiona Hick as CEO of its metals business in the past few days.
The others are Silver Lake Resources, Capricorn, Liontown Resources and Ramelius Resources.
Liontown managing director Tony Ottaviano said that as a growing developer, the company has recognised the unique opportunity to grow based on solid ESG credentials.
"Fundamental to Liontown's core, is doing what we say we will do, for the right reasons and respectfully," he said.
The company has set a board gender diversity target of 30% by the end of June 2024 and at 28% now, it is well on track, and Ottaviano said the company was getting the fundamentals right.
"We are proud to have a workforce where women currently represent 34% of our employees. While this number shows progress, we understand that there is still work to be done to ensure equal opportunities for all people, regardless of gender or cultural heritage, as we continue to build our team," Ottaviano said.
"We have developed a roadmap that outlines our approach to continue and accelerate our gender diversity progress as we undergo a rapid transformation from an explorer to a successful mid-tier mine operator.
"As we continue to develop our culture, we are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive workplace for everyone and an environment where all people feel respected and protected."
According to Ramelius, while it has no women on its executive team, when senior and middle management is included, its female leadership stands at 30% with overall group leadership at 20% women, including Mt Magnet general manager Liz Jones.
The company has set a diversity target to increase female representation, which is included in the ESG portion of its short-term incentive.
It has also introduced a paid parental leave scheme, offering up to 20 weeks for primary and secondary carers, regardless of gender.
Chalice Mining leads the ASX 200 in terms of overall female participation with 46% of its employees being women, a figure managing director Alex Dorsch said the company was incredibly proud of.
"We believe true diversity extends beyond gender to factors such as age, ethnicity, family status and cultural backgrounds, and that in bringing together many minds and viewpoints we not only create a diverse and inclusive workplace but can also deliver better business outcomes," he said.
Mineral Resources is another company which has experienced rapid growth in the past two years, but importantly, has grown its female representation at the same rate.
Its total female employees have increased from 15.2% at the end of 2020 to 21.6% today, with the total number of female employees more than doubling from 527 to 1083 over that period.
MinRes' Gender Equity Strategy was reshaped in FY22 to incorporate seven key focus areas to be delivered over three years, supported by a new Gender Equity Working Group. It includes annual gender pay reviews and rolling out a safe and respectful behaviours program to all employees.
The company's new state-of-the-art headquarters has a creche and it offers 18 weeks paid primary carers leave and four weeks paid leave for the secondary carer.
MinRes chief people and shared services officer Bronwyn Grieve said the company was proud of the growth in female participation but acknowledged there was more work to be done.
"Whether it's by attracting more women to the workforce, offering flexibility and industry leading parental leave or providing a safe and world-class working environment, MinRes is making real progress on gender equality," she said.
"That's led from the top, where we have increased the percentage of women on the board, including with the recent appointment of senior Noongar woman, Emeritus Professor Colleen Hayward."
Other companies with large year-on-year jumps in overall female employment include Iluka, Whitehaven Coal, OZ Minerals, Gold Road Resources and Allkem.
Allkem's total female participation rate has increased from 17% to 21% in just one year and the company has set a target of 25% by FY25.
There are a further 22 mining companies in the ASX 300.
The standout for the second year running is Europe-focused lithium and geothermal developer Vulcan Energy Resources, which has achieved board parity.
Two have female managing directors, Mincor Resources and Australian Strategic Materials, while two have female chairs, Grange Resources and Westgold Resources.
Mincor, Grange, St Barbara, 29Metals, Imdex and Bellevue Gold have 40% female boards, with Bellevue also a sector standout with 44% women overall.
Critical minerals developers Argosy Minerals and 5E Advanced Materials have no women on their boards.
Overall ASX mining space
According to executive recruitment firm Acacia, there have been 465 board and executive appointments in the ASX mining and energy spaces in the first eight months of the 2023 financial year, roughly in line with the 452 appointments made last year.
Discouragingly, the proportion of female appointments remained stagnant at just 16%, comprising 17% of board appointments and only 12% of executive team appointments.
Of those female board appointments, 35.5% had finance and business backgrounds, 35.5% had a technical background, 20% had a law background, and 9% had humanities and "other" backgrounds, the latter figure being down from 19.4% in FY22.
Acacia director Laura Grierson said there had never been a greater focus from the company's clients on pursuing women for board and executive roles.
"This focus and desire is exemplary but leaders need to ensure they are actually setting these processes up for equitable outcomes," she said.
"That means looking at potential candidates that have the required skills and ability to deliver outcomes, rather than based on seniority tenure or rank.
"It means reflecting on your own leadership shadow, ensuring you don't have any biases which may be inhibiting your perception of the ‘best' candidate, and also reflecting on whether the workplace you are trying to attract diversity to is truly inclusive.
"There are wider talent pools of talent to be accessed, if we can actually provide equitable access to opportunities - and a lot of this rests on a business's hiring practises."
Across the broader ASX metals and mining universe, junior explorer Metal Bank has a majority female board, led by executive chair Ines Scotland.
Juniors Great Boulder Resources, IperionX and Kalgoorlie Gold Mining have achieved an equal gender split.