Queensland’s resources sector has made significant gains in the attraction and retention of women in its workforce since it began tracking progress in 2006.
The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) and its members have a goal of 20 per cent women in ‘non-traditional’ roles by 2020.
Since 2006, the proportion of women in these ‘non-traditional’ roles – such as engineering, geology, trades, operators, senior management – has increased from six per cent to 12 per cent.
The proportion of women in all occupations in QRC member companies is now at 15 per cent.
However, the protracted downturn in the sector over recent years has made the task of reaching the 20 per cent ‘non-traditional’ goal by 2020 more difficult, as can be seen in Figure 1.
Just as mineral explorers now have to look deeper under cover, QRC members have worked their way through the easy fixes, such as female personal protective equipment, suitable ablution facilities and increased flexibility in working arrangements, and now need to continue to innovate to reach or surpass their goal.
However, the fact that the number of women in the sector Australia wide has increased by 85 per cent to just under 33 000 (according to ABS data) over that time shouldn’t be discounted.
That means an additional 15 000 women, Australia wide, who have taken up new opportunities in challenging, interesting and well-paid roles.
While the task is not easy, the rewards are immense for individual women, their families, and resources companies who enjoy increased innovation, improved workplace culture and more productive businesses.
Attracting and retaining women in our sector will continue to take leadership from the very top along with bold strategies, such as Aurizon’s new target of 30 per cent female employees by the end of 2019. This means a doubling of its female workforce while continuing to transform the company from a government-owned business.
Aurizon’s Chief Executive Lance Hockridge put it this way in a recent newspaper interview:
‘…blokes have had the inside run for 150 years in this organisation. This is not about discrimination against men, it’s about discrimination in favour of a diverse and inclusive workforce.’ (The Australian February 27 2016.)
A consistent theme is that gender diversity needs to be considered as a workplace issue and be embedded in company culture in the same way as safety was 20 years ago.
Another is that greater diversity will come only when both men and women feel confident about using flexible working arrangements and parental leave.
Progress is slow though, particularly in areas such as senior management, where at 10.3 per cent women in 2014-15, we are only just above the 2007-08 figure.
And, in trades, the proportion has hovered around the two percent mark since 2006.
We need to continue to work at all levels – from the start of the pipeline in schools, through to university and retention and promotion of women in the resources sector workforce.
Even during the current downturn, now is not the time to drop the ball.
There is plenty of evidence that gender diversity adds to companies’ bottom lines, eg Women Matter – the business and economic case for gender diversity by McKinsey.
And, the current downturn will end.
Those companies with a diverse workforce and proven record of valuing and promoting their female personnel, are likely to have a significant competitive advantage when it comes to the next business upswing.