For BHP Peak Downs (Minerals Australia) General Manager Sean Milfull, a moment at a networking event has changed his perspective on inclusion. This is his story.
Last year I attended an external inclusion and diversity event in Brisbane with more than 100 people in attendance. I arrived during the introduction session in the foyer and noticed that the event was very well attended with groups mingling in various sections of the room.
I stood at the registration desk and looked around as the hosts greeted me and gave me my name tag and I saw people mingling, laughing, connecting, working in small teams… and also saw I was the only male there.
Though I could sense the great energy in the room, it was difficult for me to take the next step and start engaging. I felt awkward and out of place. With a wife and two daughters I am used to being around women, but I know them and they are my family. Being in this situation was a first for me and one potential response was flight, to walk away and act like I had made a mistake and entered the wrong forum. Personally though, I knew that there was real benefit in being at this event and needed to stick it out and make an effort.
One of the women who was close saw me standing there and immediately came by and welcomed me. I don’t think she had any idea how that simple gesture made me feel welcome and included. She introduced herself and walked me to one of the groups of women and proceeded to introduce me to other people and the context of the discussion taking place. Another women then asked my opinion about the matter and in no time I was contributing and participating in the conversation as part of the team. I was one more in the group.
One of the key reasons for me attending was to network and see if we would be able to identify and influence some women that were external to the mining environment to consider a potential career change. However the personal impacts were far more revealing. I learned what it was like to be the ‘outsider’, and how the inclusive actions and leadership behaviours of a few individuals can make such a positive impact on a minority group.
We can all project actions and behaviours to being fully inclusive through the way we come across to others. It is simple to break the awkwardness that people sometimes encounter in certain situations – all it takes are some simple gestures from both parties: welcoming, listening, collaborating and contributing our thoughts. We can all actively participate in creating more inclusive teams. It starts with each of us.
- I try to take a personal approach to how I behave and conduct myself on a daily basis. For me, it is important to:
- be personal and understand our team and the people I work with, and demonstrate that I genuinely care for them;
- say ‘hello’ to every person that I see and take time to walk around and have conversations with our employees whenever I can;
have an open door policy – anybody can come and see me if they need to. The day people stop coming to me for help or to offer ideas/suggestions is the day I become a less effective leader.
For any female considering a career in our industry, I’d say this: the mining industry is exciting and incredibly rewarding.
Secondly, find someone that you admire and ask them if they would be willing to act as a mentor or guide – someone you can go to for advice or assistance when you need it. I have not met anyone that has refused such a request.