Words by Rob Jackson
Vice President Operations, South32 Cannington Mine
& Diversity Champion Award Winner
I believe the case for diversity is compelling and unequivocal. Cannington Mine operates at its maximum when there is a diverse set of views and opinions inputting into all aspects of the mine design, planning and scheduling. I don’t believe a homogeneous group would come up with the innovative options that have been developed at Cannington.
Diversity can only occur when there is a proactive and healthy culture regarding inclusion. There’s no doubt in my mind you get better outcomes when you have an inclusive workplace with diverse teams.
Diverse teams offer diverse solutions
What I’ve learnt over the years is while it may be easier to lead a group of people who are similar to me, you just don’t get the same results when your team is diverse.
Leading a diverse group of people can appear to be harder. But I’d encourage all leaders to create diverse teams as you will be rewarded with stronger results.
Why exactly? Having different ways of thinking, alternative views and new approaches means, ultimately, more ideas and new ways of thinking about a problem that means potentially more solutions to work with.
And if you’ve got inclusivity, then everyone feels comfortable to put those thoughts on the table.
I find that a very different dynamic exists when everyone stems from a different walk of life too. My sense is you get a group of people who behave less like a tribe, and more like a team.
It all starts with leadership
In any business, achieving diversity and realising the benefits boils down to leadership. At least initially, it has to start at the top. It’s up to leaders to set the expectations around what’s acceptable culturally, and then model the right behaviours and hold people to account to deliver on those expectations. To me, that’s the starting point.
Of course this can sometimes mean making difficult decisions and having tough conversations. But once you’ve committed to this journey, improvements in diversity start to show. And I’ve found that you then get to a tipping point where it becomes embedded into the business psyche and it becomes the norm.
On the topic of gender diversity targets, I initially doubted their effectiveness to bring about change, until about two years ago. What I’ve learnt is that targets are not necessary for the people who believe in inclusion and diversity. However, by deliberately making changes so that a diverse workplace becomes the norm we are speeding up progress in this space.
And there are plenty of examples, both in Australia and internationally, where we are seeing some positive shifts, because of targets or goals that have been set in place.
Of course, anything that is seen to change the way we’ve always done things can ‘ruffle feathers’. But as leaders, we need to lead by example and own this change. How do we balance that out? How do we get people to see that this is the right thing to do? My experience is that people become accustomed to a “new way of working” because the perceptions are changed once they have experienced working in and being part of a diverse team.
We don’t want to imply or convey that due to targets we are not appointing people on merit. Our recruitment process should always be fair while still making sure that there’s equal representation in our applicants, for example.
Fostering inclusion at South32
Here at South32, we have a number of initiatives aimed at fostering diversity. Like many places, we started out with a Diversity Working Group, very much focused on improving gender diversity. But since, it’s become an Inclusive Culture Working Group, focused on delivering diversity through an inclusive workplace. The group’s success lies in having representation from across the operations and importantly a work plan that is approved and supported by management.
While we are focused on increasing female participation rates we are also focused on creating and sustaining an inclusive workplace. We believe this will help address any ‘blow-back’ that we know is occurring in workplaces when female diversity strategies are perceived as excluding others. So again, it’s about inclusion and balance.
We spend a lot of time around leadership development, including unconscious bias training with leaders. We offer male and female mentoring spots and have supported females in QRCs mentoring program.
And we organise a lot of events to support our commitment to inclusiveness. Events cater for all of our workforce including sport, gym and wellbeing, but also celebrating various events, putting on barbecues and hosting events at the village. Being a FIFO site, we also focus a lot on mental wellness – and interestingly, that has driven some quite substantial benefits from an inclusive working place perspective, proving hugely successful for us.
We also strive towards developing a futures-focused pipeline of females entering the industry through school-based STEM programs in Townsville, Brisbane, Cloncurry and McKinlay, in collaboration with CSIRO and QMEA.
When a new norm emerges
While achieving diversity can take a conscious decision and some effort at the outset, it becomes less demanding to put the steps into place and eventually, it becomes normal. And it’s so rewarding in so many ways – both professionally and personally.
To me, we’ve passed that tipping point. There’s a natural momentum of its own. It’s just the way we operate.
When I first started at the Cannington South32 site a number of years ago, I sat in my lead team meetings and there wasn’t a woman at the table. Today we have perfect parity – half women and half men.
We’re probably three levels down in our leadership focus now. We’ve gone from about 13% females to 42% at a superintendent level, 3% to 12% at supervisor level and now have more female operators and apprentices.
It is rewarding to see this happening and not being seen as unusual.
Changing perceptions at home
We have come a long way in the workplace. But I believe there’s still much more that needs to evolve going forward. I think the biggest shift we could make to help get diversity in the workplace is to get males back into the home and have that seen as normal. To me, that’s the silver bullet.
Somehow, fundamentally we’ve got to shift that perception around gender roles in society so that as the next generation is growing up, they see it as completely normal that mum and/or dad can go to work. And mum and/or dad can play a lead role at home.
If there’s a point in the future where it’s completely acceptable, and as normal as not, to have a stay at home father, as a stay at home mother, then that’s where we’re going to see real change.