mining, woman, site

The road to gender balance

Athalie Williams

Chief People Officer

In 2016, we announced our aspirational goal to achieve gender balance by 2025. At the time, the number of women working in in the mining industry was just 16 per cent, with BHP not much better at 17.6 per cent. 

Today women represent more than 30 per cent of BHP’s workforce and 38 per cent of the roles that report to our Executive Leadership Team. 

When we announced our goal, there was a lot of noise both inside and outside our industry. Many questioned whether we could achieve it. 

You’re crazy, they said. You’ll never get there, they said. 

As a company, we chose to ignore the negative commentary; we chose to be bold and back our capability to make the changes necessary to reach our aspirations. 

And while we certainly still have a lot of work to do, we have come a long way. 

We have made mistakes, uncovered hard truths, and have seen what can happen when you pursue a goal relentlessly, as one team. 

Here are five things I have learned on the first half of our journey. 

Getting people to understand the ‘why’ takes time

We thought achieving gender balance would be something everyone would wrap their arms around, but we underestimated how long it would take to get people to understand and believe in why it mattered - both internally and externally. 

As society, we still have a long way to go to change the perception that organisations are just employing women to hit a target. While we have these targets, it’s not our motivation. 

We know inclusive and diverse workplaces improve business performance. Our safety and performance data speaks for itself - teams that are more diverse are safer, more productive and have a better culture.   

To shift mindsets, you have to be willing to have open and honest conversations and explore different perspectives together. You have to take time to listen. This is something we continue to work on at BHP. Recently, our sites in Queensland ran a leader-led campaign #ProudToChallenge. Over the course of 16 weeks, each General Manager led a conversation on a different topic, including questioning quotas, breaking bias and being advocates for change. This provided an opportunity to address questions people had and bust widespread myths like “We’re only hiring women”. 

What gets measured gets done

Data is a precious gift - use it. We simply wouldn’t be where we are today without the data we collected, and if I had my time again; I would have turned to it sooner. 

We needed to learn a lot about people and about what our barriers were, not just for women, but for everyone.  Why do people want to work here? Why can’t they or why don’t they? Or why are they leaving or taking longer to get promoted? Data continues to help us understand the expectations and experience of current and prospective employees. This helps us think differently about the solutions that are required to create a workplace where everyone can thrive and belong. 

Data also allows you to set targets and track progress. When you look at the data each month, in the same way as other operational performance metrics and ask questions about where things are going well, and where progress is off track and why, it sharpens focus and holds leaders to account. 

Be honest with yourselves 

To achieve our goal, we knew we had to face into the barriers that were affecting our ability to attract and retain women in our workplace. We had to be honest with ourselves so we could take deliberate and focused action.

Our progress to date has largely been achieved through a focus on foundation items such as mitigating bias in our hiring and recruitment processes; embedding flexible work; having a company-wide focus and open dialogue on respectful behaviours; and implementing an annual gender pay review. 

These actions have helped us make more than 6000 pay adjustments to reduce the gender pay gap, totalling over USD$19 million over the past five years; achieve balanced hiring and reduce the gap between male and female voluntary turnover to just 0.6 per cent. 

Leadership matters

We had strong leadership from the top, right from the beginning. I have partnered with two successive CEOs in Andrew Mackenzie and our current CEO Mike Henry – both of whom have deep personal conviction about why this matters and were committed to doing the work that had to be done, in particular at a leadership level. This continues to make a huge difference to our progress.

In the past two years alone, we have seen the number of women on the ELT increase from 40 to 50 per cent, and the number of women in roles that report directly to the ELT jump from 25 per cent to 38 per cent.  

Leadership is critical to the success of any organisation that aspires to be gender balanced.

Re-imagine what is possible

As we look to the next five years, we have a lot more work to do to continue to shift cultural and behavioural mindsets. We have to challenge preconceived ideas that hold us back. When we figure this out, we will create the culture we are trying to achieve, and it will be better for everyone, not just for women. For example, how do we shift the mindset of what it takes to care for children? I want all parents to take parental leave, not just women.

Our focus will be on taking what we’ve learned and continuing to redesign BHP from the bottom up. This means continuing to rethink the design of work and where it gets done. It means harnessing the transformative potential of technology and challenging the way we think about the role of our workplaces in our people’s lives, the jobs they do, the capabilities we need and the teams we build. 

Being bold is what creates the disruption that is needed for a big impact. 

I’m proud to work for a company that was brave enough to take a strong stance on this. That decision back in 2016 has shaped BHP now and for the future.