How did BHP achieve the most gender-balanced mine in the world?

BHP’s South Flank mine in the Pilbara. Pic credit: BHP

As the mining industry globally grapples with gender parity goals, BHP’s South Flank mine is leading from the front. Said to be the most gender-balanced in the world, 40% of frontline employeesand four out of six senior managers are women.

The $US3.6 billion iron ore mine in the Pilbara is well ahead of the global industry average of 10% women, as reported by the International Labour Organization. 

Mine General Manager Steve Campbell told the recent Mining Industry Summit: Driving Respect conference that recruitment for a diverse workforce began early in the mine planning stage. It officially opened two years ago. 

Gender targets 

In 2016, BHP set a minimum 40% female target by 2025 as part of its long-term goal for gender equity. 

“We know that when we’re building an inclusive and diverse workforce, a safe working environment is essential where people feel personally safe and free from bullying and harassment of any kind,” Campbell says. 

“At South Flank we’ve done that by building a site culture that encourages everyone to be themselves to give their best and return home safe and well each and every swing.” 

Measuring behaviour 

BHP teamed up with Monash University two years ago to “understand the impact of our current controls, and certainly improve on them to create a highly respectful workplace”. 

“We started by educating our site leaders – around 100 people – about the latest thinking in our behaviour change and finding effective ways to move away from sexist language, inequality and negative sentiments towards women – behaviours that are absolutely not accepted … and are known key factors for sexual harassment and assault,” Campbell says. 

Next, they interviewed around 700 workers including feedback on controls such as village design, alcohol restrictions and security measures. 

“Some of the answers really surprised us,” Campbell says. 

“Of those interviewed, 90% supported diversity in the workplace by gender, age, ethnicity, and 83% preferred mixed crews,” Steve Campbell says.

“84% feel South Flank is a safe place for everyone and 86% felt a clear sense of what appropriate behaviour looks like.” 

Results published 

Monash published a report on BHP’s gender diversity results in the Harvard Business Review. It said “South Flank, to the best of our knowledge, is the most gender-balanced large mine in Australia and also, likely, the world”. 

“BHP’s own analyses found its gender-balanced teams are more productive, happier, more engaged, and critically, they are safer, with 67% lower recordable injury rates,” Monash reports. 

Five drivers of success 

Monash identified five key drivers of the mine’s success: 

  • Strong leadership engagement with strict gender targets 
  • Strong support from head office 
  • Safety and security investment 
  • Data-driven methods to drive change 
  • Hard work 

“It will take time; it certainly will take effort, but ultimately it will pay off in spades creating a safer, happier and more productive workplace,” Campbell says. 

“We’re not taking our eye off the prize when it comes to creating an inclusive, diverse and respectful culture. 

“Above all, we want a workplace where people want to come to work, where they feel enabled, developed, where they feel fulfilled through exciting and meaningful work, a place where they feel like they belong.” 

For general employee advice and guidance, contact CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or email [email protected]

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