In June 2022, the findings of a parliamentary inquiry by the Western Australian government into sexual harassment against women in the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mining industry were published.
The Enough is enough report revealed a longstanding culture of shocking and grossly unacceptable behaviours against women at operations run by many of the world’s biggest mining companies.
Following this, several organisations commissioned external inquiries into their workplace cultures which confirmed widespread systemic bullying, sexual harassment and racism.
That was just last year. And it got me thinking…
We know from numerous studies how inclusive cultures that embrace diversity can improve performance, accelerate innovation, and strengthen the resiliency of companies.
However, while there are clear business drivers for greater inclusion and diversity, the reality on the ground is still, in many places, one that consciously or unconsciously, pushes women and other equity-seeking groups to the fringes and out of the companies that desperately need them.
How can we solve this paradox? I wondered and turned to Dr Laura Methot for answers.
Laura is Co-Founder and Managing Director of I&D 101, an inclusion and diversity consultancy, as well as a behavioural scientist and trusted advisor to C-Suite executives for over 30 years.
CL: Laura, is the mining industry moving in the right direction when it comes to inclusion and diversity? How can we do better?
LM: The problem is that many organisations over-index on diversity and don’t pay enough attention to inclusion. While diversity is about the range of experiences and perspectives that people bring into the workplace, inclusion is about how people are treated by and within the organisation.
So really, it’s about behavioural and cultural change; how each of us acts every day, in the ordinary and extraordinary moments, and the choices we make in every situation. In order to make the right choices, though, we need to have awareness, and that is often lacking.
Many diversity initiatives fail because diversifying the workforce alone isn’t enough. They miss the point of how people treat each other.
For example, I had an experience during a plant tour once with a manager and a supervisor, who were very vigilant on safety and were really good at their jobs. They interacted nicely with the front-line workers, but when we passed a women’s toilet, I noticed it had all kinds of nasty things written on the door in the dust. The two men hadn’t even noticed.
How safe would a woman feel, I asked myself, to see all these nasty misogynistic things directed at them? When I brought it to the supervisor’s and manager’s attention, they were mortified, realising they were so attuned to operational safety protocols, but this safety problem hadn’t been on their radar at all.
How can we raise awareness of these kinds of behaviours that create, not just exclusionary, but sometimes frightening and threatening environments?
We have to answer this on the levels of both the organisation and individual behaviours.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) practices must become a core part of businesses. DE&I are not solely HR issues, they are operational and leadership issues, because inclusion happens where the work gets done.
I like to compare it with safety and operational excellence. If we look at the journey in mining from the 1980s to today, we can see how safety has become a core part of business strategy. In pre- and post-shift line-ups and work, teams are likely talking about safe and reliable operations; safety is not decoupled from production, and that has led to dramatic decreases in incidents and accidents.
That is where we need to get to with DE&I too. It needs to become a core part of business and deeply ingrained into organisation’s cultures and values.
How can we get everyone, from front-line workers to top executives, on board?
It’s important first to define the company’s ambition – what is it trying to accomplish in the context of the business – and, as with any strategic change, to identify goals and KPIs for outcomes and behaviours to be tracked and measured.
We can provide guideposts and there are some core behaviours that we deem crucial, but it’s important that, based on diagnostics, each level of the organisation defines inclusive behaviours and ways to validate that those desired inclusive behaviours are happening.
Tracking and talking about these behaviours then becomes part of the daily team and work meetings across the different levels.
What does this look like in practice?
We need to ask ourselves (and I ask the employees and leaders in organisations): what are some of the core behaviours that would make our culture more inclusive? What are we doing now that needs to stop? And what do we want people doing instead?
Once we identify those, then we need to watch each other, give feedback and intervene when we see exclusionary behaviours. Cultural change begins with accountability. That is what happened with safety. Everybody everywhere in the organisation needs to be accountable to the same metrics and behaviours, and then we will see some shifts.
What are some of those core behaviours that you have identified as making a real difference? Is it possible to pinpoint a couple?
There are some universal classes of behaviour that do make a huge difference. For instance, speaking to one another with respect, not interrupting, and intervening or speaking up when we see behaviour that is not right, are among the most important ones.
We need to make people confident and comfortable in intervening. It has to feel safe, and that requires inclusive behaviour to be backed up throughout the organisation.
Inviting people in is also crucial on every level of the organisation. That might mean inviting someone sitting alone at a table to join others and then, not just sitting in silence, but treating each other as equals and asking authentic questions.
It can mean actively asking for the opinion and expertise of women or other under-represented groups, who often get talked over or marginalised in team meetings. It could also mean inviting them onto the team of a special project.
These kinds of special projects are critical for career growth, and it’s important that we actively seek diverse representation rather than sticking to the ways things have always been done.
How can we track and validate behavioural changes?
It can be validated in much the same way as a safety check at the end of a shift. Ask the team: what happened today? Which situations did you encounter and how did you deal with them? How did you behave? How do we rate ourselves on our inclusive behaviours today on a scale from one to five?
Cultural change happens through one act of courage, one piece of awareness, and one gesture of respect and kindness at a time. Every single person needs to be made accountable for their behaviours, whether conscious or unconscious, and learn to be more aware.
But what if people don’t want things to change? What if they don’t feel the weight of exclusion, but rather benefit from current power imbalances?
There is actually a lot of attention on this right now. Inclusion requires everyone to be onboard, otherwise it is not inclusive.
In 2022, I spoke to one client who reviewed his global employee survey, and guess who was lowest on the ‘how safe do you feel to speak up’ ranking? Black women and white men.
How could that be? It’s because men are often scared to say the wrong thing – to accidentally come across as misogynistic or homophobic – and they don’t know what to do, or what to say.
Rather than sitting silently, we need all of our colleagues, male, female and otherwise, to speak up as allies, interveners, and advocates for all.