Paul Cuthbert is General Manager at our Olympic Dam operations in Australia. This is his story.
“…look for opportunities to create diversity, and challenge and knock down any barriers along the way.”
As a junior engineer I had to earn my stripes to be accepted within the underground workforce as I moved around different mines in the eastern goldfields. Sometimes this took longer than at others. Looking back I probably tolerated a bit of flack but I know I’ve been fortunate compared to many.
Nowadays, my experiences drive me to remove that ‘earn-your-stripes’ type of culture before people are accepted. I believe everyone should feel like they can be who they truly are at work, and everyone should expect to be treated with respect. Always. It’s a basic entitlement. More simply, as a dad of three children that are nearing the age of entering the workplace, I want to make sure my daughter has the same opportunities as my boys and none of them have a felt experience that makes them not enjoy going to work.
I’m acutely aware of my leadership shadow. When forming teams I intentionally gather diverse groups of people who think differently and challenge me to make sure my biases are not influencing decisions.
I was lucky to lead Ekati, our diamond mine in Northern Canada, for a period of time. In my eyes, this is a shining example of a diverse workforce and one that’s representative of the communities where we operate. I learned a lot about how powerful a culture of care and respect can be at work. I put this down to the diversity of the team and the informal and formal leaders of the group that really set the bar high. Sharing the cultural insights and learnings from the First Nations and leveraging the broader multi-cultural communities that included and surrounded Yellowknife was very humbling at times.
It’s experiences such as this that make me believe we need to keep challenging ourselves to see what’s possible and not just accept the way it has always been done. I recently came across an inspiring company where 60 per cent of its workforce had a disability. The company had redesigned the work to be inclusive of everyone’s capabilities and, in doing so, created a truly inclusive workplace. They also considered the facilities required and created the support environment based on shared values.
While the barriers in this example may be different to those we may face at BHP, with deliberate thought and action anything is possible. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others and continually ask for feedback then we can make the right changes.
To do this we need better education, communication and transparent processes, such as around recruitment and promotion, to create a culture where our teams feel truly engaged and valued. We must simply not tolerate behaviours that don’t support a culture of care and respect.
Integrity is one of BHP’s Charter Values I hold close. Doing what is right drives me, and creating positive change is simply the right thing to do. As a business we need to do more to create a workplace that values diversity and nurtures it. While we’re certainly heading in the right direction, we know we have more to do to improve the felt experience of some of our workforce. Having a seat at the Inclusion and Diversity Council table is a way for me to provide direct feedback of what’s working, help identify where further opportunities lie and to be active in the conversation of where to next from here.
I also try and support through other means – like being a Jasper ally (our employee inclusion group for BHP’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and others), having some fun as part of Movember activities or celebrating events such as NAIDOC week. Diversity is a much broader conversation than one solely about gender and it’s healthy to remind ourselves of this.
My advice to other leaders is to fully understand the felt experience of people in their teams, look for opportunities to create diversity, and challenge and knock down any barriers along the way. We can only improve these felt experiences if we’re all open to learning and are curious. We shouldn’t be bystanders, or accept or use excuses as to why we can’t be inclusive and diverse. What if it was your child, relative or friend? Stand up, speak up, and support your workmates!