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As the mining industry evolves, issues of diversity and inclusivity are constants on the agendas of executives, governments and the wider workforce. Australian Mining speaks to those holding the torch for women and Indigenous people in mining.

Across the sectors of mining, manufacturing, construction, supply chain and similar male-dominated industries, women represent around a quarter of the workforce.

The need for gender diversity in the workforce comes not only from pillars of social and moral justice, but from a desire for improved business metrics and enhanced operations, according to Louise Weine, the chief executive officer of NAWO (the National Association for Women in Operations).

Weine said she’s grateful for the opportunity to be part of an organisation which brings entire industries together for a common goal.

“When I found out about NAWO, I was thinking, ‘I wish I’d known about them when I was in operations.’ I know exactly what it’s like to be there, on reflection I now understand what’s going wrong, and I want to do something to change it,” Weine told Australian Mining.

NAWO is a 10-year-old not-for-profit organisation which works to see gender diversity valued and balanced at every level of operations.

Today, NAWO partners with around 60 large corporate companies across multiple industries. One of which is major miner, Mineral Resources, which became a Gold Corporate Member in mid-2021.

This level of membership gives every Mineral Resources employee access to any of NAWO’s in-person events, as well as all of its webinars – an important consideration at a time when COVID-19 has restricted the movement of remote and fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers.

Mineral Resources general manager for human resources and industrial relations, Layla Mehravari, said the benefits of diversity and inclusion stretch far beyond moral obligation.

“For us, it’s about improving our access to talent, particularly in a labour market like this,” Mehravari said.

“It improves financial performance and innovation, and there’s a lot of information and anecdotal evidence that it improves our risk strategies and safety stats.

Mehravari said the company achieved its aim to lift its female employment above the industry average of 16.1 per cent, but a culture of inclusion is the higher purpose.

“We try to ensure we have an environment which appeals to all types of people in terms of the way we work on site, the way we lead and develop people, and the way we manage our rosters to include them,” she said.

“If you just use percentage of females in your workforce as your measure, you lose a lot of the richness of what you’re actually doing to improve the experience for women.”

Another organisation doing its bit for the cause is Indigenous Women in Mining and Resources Australia (IWIMRA).

IWIMRA chief executive officer Florence Drummond started the now not-for-profit in 2017 when she found a gap in the support network for Indigenous women in mining. This meant very few Indigenous women were able to succeed into senior roles.

“It made me think, ‘how is this even possible?’ The companies had been there for around 30 years and still there was no Indigenous people in leadership roles,” Drummond said.

The beast became especially difficult to slay when the Respect at Work report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins uncovered the true state of being for women in mining.

The report found sexual harassment was widespread and pervasive across all Australian workplaces, with 39 per of women and 26 per cent of men experiencing sexual harassment in their workplace.

“There are very clear guidelines that came from the Respect at Work report about what needs to be done,” Weine said.

“Progress requires a whole society approach – from business, government and individuals.”

It’s statistics like these which only inspire more action to be taken and a healthier workplace to be developed at mine sites across Australia.

Mehravari said Mineral Resources aimed to keep the momentum going through its entry-level programs and use them to push female employees right up the leadership ladder.

“Bringing them in the door is one thing but we really want to help understand those pathways through the business into different areas of Mineral Resources and how we can use their skills and talents to give them that career progression,” she said.

“The most important thing is continuing cultural improvement and making sure the workplace is accessible to women as possible so that they’re given the opportunity to thrive and move into leadership roles.”