orange gradient

Diversity and Digital Transformation


Diane Jurgens


Before I begin, I’d first like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

It’s a pleasure to be speaking to you all today. And as I look around the room – I’m incredibly warmed to see an audience so richly diverse in gender and experience – it seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss the role of diversity and digital transformation.

Diversity in all of its forms improves the workplace – it’s as simple as that. I know, because I’ve seen it happen.

When I was starting out as an engineer over 30 years ago, I was working in the aerospace industry – an industry usually described as ‘male dominated’.

I took care not to join ‘women’s groups’ for fear of alienating my male colleagues.

Years later, I worked as the Chief Information Officer for an automotive company in China, and we had a great opportunity to specifically market more of their cars to women.

We launched a Women’s Council to help realise this opportunity.  

As a solution, the Council recommended that women play a larger role in the vehicle design process. Management agreed, and the results I saw were amazing.

Not only were we successful in making our products more popular, the move also had a positive effect on company culture.

This experience taught me that a company only has to make small changes to achieve big results.

This is why I was incredibly proud when in 2016, BHP boldly set an aspirational goal to achieve gender balance by 2025.

And this is no small change.

In the two years since we announced this goal, it hasn’t just transformed BHP, it’s also sparked debate, action and innovation.

The case is compelling. At BHP, our experience shows that our most inclusive and gender diverse teams perform better than the Company average in areas such as safety, productivity, cost efficiency, employee engagement and mental health.

It came as no surprise to us that our action reverberated across the industry when you consider that in 2016, women made up a mere 13.7 % of the entire Australian mining sector. And in 2015, women occupied only 5% of Board positions at the top 500 globally listed mining companies.

Yet, a recent Diversity Council Australia study confirmed that innovative change within a business was more likely to emerge from teams or groups diverse in gender, culture, skills and experience.

It found diverse teams were:

•    FOUR times more likely to engage with and show loyalty to their employers;
•    TEN times more productive; and
•    NINE times more likely to innovate.

That’s NINE times more likely to innovate.

The problem

The problem our industry faces is twofold.

Firstly, it’s seen by many as being ‘old school’ – think men returning from the coal face covered in soot. Yet the reality is our sector is at the forefront of technological progress with innovations like drill, truck and rail automation.

If the resources sector is to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve, we must continuously improve our processes, behaviours and working environments to make it more attractive to the broader workforce so we can compete for candidates who think differently.
Secondly, the industry, and Australia in general, is not doing enough now to secure the workforce of the future.

When I reflect on where we are as an industry, and where we are headed in the future, I believe science, technology, engineering and maths – or STEM – is vital for our future prosperity.

A workforce that is STEM-educated and skilled for the future will set all of us up for success.

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in job types that don’t yet exist – jobs that will most likely be in the field of STEM. And by 2030, half of the future workforce will need high-level programming, coding and software skills.

However, OECD data shows Australia is below the average for university graduates in science and engineering at only 18% compared to other countries such as Germany with more than 30%.

The number of female graduates with an appreciation of STEM and mining is also decreasing. Yet now more than ever, all students require a well-rounded education that fosters problem-solving, innovation and a global viewpoint.

And the mining industry, along with Government, non-profits and other businesses have begun working together to equip the next generation with the skills they need to thrive in a future where technology and digital literacy will touch every occupation.
But we can all do more.

What is BHP doing

So what is BHP doing to address this issue and are we seeing results?

The good news is that since we announced our aspirational goal for gender balance, we’ve seen solid progress. In fact, our female participation rates increased more in the first year after the announcement than they did in the previous decade. And I’m proud that the Technology function that I oversee has seen its female representation increase by 6%.

We’ve found our ability to attract a more diverse workforce depends on three things – investment in education and on-the-job skills development, creating an exciting vision for future innovation, and a focus on flexibility.

I’m pleased to say BHP has made progress in all three of these areas.

Turning to the first area, our Iron Ore business has committed to funding several local STEM education programs – one of which I will talk about in a minute.

And separately, the BHP Billiton Foundation – a charity that BHP supports – has committed more than $55 million dollars to Australian STEM programs over five years.

Second, we are working with our suppliers to roll out a number of improvements that change the way our jobs are designed and executed. This is critical because these refinements allow almost anyone to work in roles that were traditionally labour intensive – diversifying the talent pool from which we can choose.

And third, we’re developing technologies that are helping us achieve greater job flexibility. This lowers staff turnover, attracts high quality candidates, and improves productivity and morale.

But it’s been a challenge given the work we do is often remote, labour-intensive, and in the past, inflexible.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Mobile Competency Centre

In August 2016, we launched a new Mobile Competency Centre to develop applications – or apps – which address productivity, safety and flexibility needs across our business. It is a prime example of technology promoting greater diversity.

The MCC is developing the next generation of purpose built mobile technology for our Company. This will allow anyone – from operators in our underground mines to procurement officers in our head office – to access real-time information on their smartphone or tablet, as and when they need it, no matter where they are.
The results so far have been encouraging.

We launched nine apps last year – like the Coal & Iron Ore Shutdown App, and the Leaders’ Toolkit App – which give our people access to critical systems while on the go – and more opportunities to work flexibly.

These nine apps have so far been downloaded more than 3,500 times.

And – in our most recent employee Engagement and Perception Survey – 46% of employees told us that they had flexible working arrangements in place – up from 42% last year. For our Technology function – this number was over 90%.

It’s working – and we’re not stopping there.

IROC – a new approach to recruitment

The launch of our Coal Integrated Remote Operations Centre (or IROC) in March last year demonstrates how we’re blending the latest mining technology with our concerted approach to embedding inclusivity and diversity in our workforce.

A first of its kind for the coal industry in Queensland, this purpose-built control floor provides a 24 - 7, real-time view of operations from pit to port, all from one central location in Brisbane.

If you’re having trouble imagining what this might look like – picture rooms full of computer screens, blinking lights and control stations – or the Bridge from Star Trek – and you’re not a million miles away.

Already, the Coal IROC demonstrates the early results of our efforts towards gender balance. Approximately 52% of the workforce at IROC are female and 48% are male – and 30% are made up of workers from non-traditional talent pools, such as air traffic controllers, Triple Zero dispatchers, medical scientists and triage nurses. Most are diverse, creative thinkers who thrive in intense environments, with skills in problem solving, diagnosis and analysis.
This breakthrough in technology and new approach to mine management has effectively removed constraints and gender bias that were once inherent in these roles. And it has enabled purposeful recruitment of people with diverse skills and experience.

MOOKA Ore Car Repair Shop

BHP’s Iron Ore Car Repair Shop – or OCRS – we love our acronyms – located in the Pilbara area of Western Australia - is another example of how we’re working with our equipment suppliers to achieve gender balance in practice.

The OCRS is a high-tech, semi-automated production line that carries out repair and maintenance works of our fleet of iron ore rail cars. Until recently, it required workers with specialist technical qualifications and strength to operate.

However, we have helped replace this ‘legacy’ equipment with a series of automated guided vehicles, a robotic gantry system, and a number of overhead cranes. These innovations have not only made the workplace safer, but they have eliminated the need for physical strength in these operational roles. This is good for both men and women – and makes it possible for us to recruit a diverse pool of talent from the local community.

When I first visited in 2015, the female workforce was just 5% - it is now 30% and as of June last year, 10% were Indigenous.

To echo one of our employees, ‘Bringing the community into the workplace has helped turn the workplace into a community’.

This is incredible progress in the short term.

To ensure we’re also successful in the long term, we’re investing heavily in STEM skills and education for groups that are often underrepresented – such as people with a disability.

Perth Autism Partnerships

Australia’s record of integrating people with a disability into the workforce – particularly into STEM roles – has been poor. We rank 21st out of 29 OECD countries.

This is surprising given that research from Curtin University shows that people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are incredibly well suited to certain roles in technology because of their work ethic and attention to detail.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Curtin University, the Autism Academy of Software Quality Assurance and the Australian Computer Society Foundation to provide internships to Autistic students and help give them industry experience and integrate them into our workforce.
The results have been amazing.

One intern is testing the software for an automated crew rostering tool that will soon be rolled out across our rail operations. Another is designing and building an interactive version of our five-year plan. While a third recruit is helping the cybernetics team transform our wireless communications infrastructure.
It’s a great program.

Fifteen line leaders from across our iron ore operations – outside the current trial, and outside Technology – have requested interns from the program during the next intake.


So, to recap.

Diversity in all of its forms improves the workplace – and investment in technology is an investment in diversity. It’s that simple.

Our digital revolution is allowing more of our people to work flexibly and reduce inherent gender biases in our job design and recruitment processes. This has changed the perception that we are dinosaurs operating in an old-school industry.

That’s why I’m constantly challenging my team at BHP to improve our digital infrastructure to make us more attractive to the next generation workforce – a workforce diverse in experience, diverse in culture, and diverse in gender.

I also challenge everyone at BHP, as well as those in Government, non-profits and the Australian business community, to collectively equip the workers of the future with the STEM skills they’ll need to take us into the next century.

This will not happen organically.

I told you earlier that in 2015, only 5% of Board positions in my industry were held by women – can you imagine the heights to which this number could rise if we get inclusion and diversity right?

True inclusion and diversity – from the breakroom to the Boardroom – is possible. And we need to work together to make it happen.

Thank you – I look forward to continuing this discussion after the break.