We recently moderated a panel discussion at one of WA’s leading Women in Mining & Resources, and Women in Leadership conferences. Through carefully scripted questions, we explored big businesses’ thoughts and ideas on gender diversity and inclusion.

The panel comprised of several highly accomplished leaders from a selection of industries, including the Mining and Resources sector. Unsurprisingly, all panellists were acutely aware of the need to increase diversification within their organisations. They were enthusiastic about being involved in the discussion, not only to share how their companies were achieving diversity, but to see how others are approaching it too.

Parental leave caused much discussion with panellists who recognised the need to get talented females back into the business and industry, but how? In the end, it came down to better planning, focus and communication.

Do not forget those on parental leave. Keep them engaged through regular communication, opportunities for ongoing training and inclusion in social events.

Be ahead of the curve and plan early. Collectively work on a plan for their return to the workplace that considers individual needs, discusses career progression, and provides access to training opportunities and mentors. The focus needs to be on developing talent and accelerating progression by enabling access to the resources required to excel. Ensuring equal parental leave opportunities are available to all genders also allows females a choice to return earlier.

Another interesting point was to look differently at how teams are defined. Could we reshape executive roles to be more inclusive of female leadership? Shape the position to the person rather than the person to the position. For example, technicians who had families and chose not to continue the FIFO lifestyle may lack the years of site experience, however, could have the internal expertise and technical skills to manage the business unit. If another member of their team is strong in site experience with less developed softs skills, this could balance out the team.

Pipelining and succession planning are also occurring more, with leaders looking three to four levels down for talent and nurturing that talent through career development. There is, however, caution around moving people up too quickly to fill diversity quotas. It needs to happen in a realistic timeframe, not to lose the technical underpinning required to succeed at an executive level.

Another topical discussion was Champions of Change and the engagement of male allies for gender diversity within the business. This question sparked a conversation that perhaps it is not about identifying male allies and rather, instilling a company-wide culture, open to all dimensions of diversity. This can be accomplished by making sure all communication is unbiased in its delivery and all events, sponsorship arrangements and promotional activities are not skewed towards any one gender.

It was also apparent that calling out bad behaviour, such as degrading comments, was more likely to elicit sustained cultural change. People learn from their mistakes and sometimes need to be reminded that their behaviour is not acceptable. The more communication around the issue, the better educated and more accepting teams become. Challenging bad behaviour outside of work environments was also flagged as important, such as when socialising with friends.

Finally, there were some great points around the recruitment process. Search for candidates with the intention of equal gender representation at shortlisting. Consider methods used to attract this audience, and to challenge, or perhaps even reject, shortlists that do not comply. Encourage executive search partners, external recruiters, and internal functional and HR teams to work with that intention.

When it comes to internal roles, go beyond placing the advertisement on internal communication platforms. Males and females view recruitment advertising differently. For example, a female may only apply for roles where she meets most of the listed criteria, whereas a male may be more inclined meeting comparatively less. The onus needs to be on direct line managers to approach females who they believe are suitable candidates for progression and encourage them to apply.

The panel discussion was very productive and encouraged quality questions and ongoing discussion throughout the conference by attendees. It was frustrating for many to be having similar conversations from one year to the next. It is apparent we are still figuring out what works best, however, we are moving forward in the right direction and need to continue the discussion to maintain momentum.

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