We’re a big company that has thrived for 130 years. Our work is often remote, physical and until recently, could be inflexible. Our female participation rates have traditionally been low. But we’re changing.
This time last year we set an ambitious and aspirational goal that will change the direction of BHP forever – to achieve gender balance globally by 2025.
I have to admit our aspirational target raised a few eyebrows. Real change needs passion. We’ve had leadership at all levels of our organisation push us forward. But not everyone moves at the same pace. We’ve also heard some reservations and scepticism during our progress.
We need to feel uncomfortable about the targets we set ourselves to know we’ve pushed hard enough. I am proud of how our people have responded.
We achieved an increase of 2.9% in female representation in the last financial year, just shy of our 3% goal. Now women comprise more than 20% of our workforce. We hired 1,000 more women in FY17. And we nearly halved the female turnover rate over the last year, from 8.4% higher than men in FY16 to 4.7% in FY17.
These numbers are important. If we achieve balance in and balance out then we can move towards our goal more quickly.
This year the number of female leaders rose to 18%. There are 100 more female leaders in our company today than a year ago. It makes a noticeable difference to how we make decisions and how it feels to work in our teams.
We know there are strong commercial reasons for diversity. A diverse workforce is safer, more innovative and productive. Our most diverse sites outperform the company average on many measures, such as lower injury rates, and greater adherence to work plans and production targets.
There’s also a moral imperative for diversity. As a father, I believe my children should be able to succeed because of their skills and achievements – the fact that they are women should not make a difference.
An increase in the participation of women will also make a difference that benefits the communities in which we operate.
Our progress in the last 12 months has been bumpy and we have learnt a lot. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt is to keep the conversation going. Many of our employees needed time to digest such a big change. They needed reassurance the aspirational goal would not disadvantage men.
As well as a change in our culture, we’ve achieved these results with some practical steps - our suppliers are engaged, our conversations are more focused, any potential bias from our systems is being assessed and we compete harder for diverse talent. For example, at our new Brisbane logistics control centre, we recruited people based on matched skills rather than mining experience alone. Women now make up 53% of that workforce.
One of our biggest steps has been around flexible work. We trust our people and give them the freedom to work flexibly in a way that suits them as individuals and their teams. We are reaching optimal arrangements through mature conversations on what flex work means for everyone - those with family and personal commitments. This applies for our office-based people but also (where practical) there has to be application to the bulk of our workforce on operating sites, on shifts, and with FIFO rosters.
Again, there’s an upside for us at BHP. Flexible work will increase safety and productivity, and make BHP more attractive to, and retain, a larger and more diverse group of talented people.
We still have a long way to go as we embark on our second year of change. This is not a linear process. We’re changing 130 years of industry convention.
Gender balance is a challenge for all industries but if a mining company like ours can achieve this progress I am hopeful of what can be achieved throughout society more broadly. We do not have a silver bullet, but we will step up to the challenge.