International Women’s Day is a day to stop and reflect.

We are on a journey which is far from over.

From the animal world dominated by instinctive, unconscious behaviour to humanity liberated from dogma by engaging powerful, critical thinking.

One dimension of this journey is gender. We should celebrate the progress already made, particularly over the last 60-70 years.

Post World War II women were not going back from war time work places to a life limited to domesticity. We’ve been educated. We’ve been brought up  to express our individuality. We increasingly are being socialised to have ambitions and goals girls and women would once never have aimed for. And science is increasingly demonstrating that genetics has less to do with predetermining the lives and interests of girls versus boys than we once thought. Diversity among women is as great as that between men and women, and generalisations about gender are unfounded.

Still we have many organisations including those in the mining sector at stage 1 of the organisational maturity journey, still typified by command and control. In these organisations employers and managers give detailed instructions for performing every task and discourage employees from being open minded and creative, enabling improvements in how things are done.

Sadly many women in mining, still only 16% of the workforce, the lowest of any sector in Australia, work in such organisations. In these organisations it’s too easy to not understand there is a problem, where everyone is comfortably avoidant and in denial, and fearful of speaking the truth about what they think and feel. Nothing to see here they say. Stating they care about Safety as Number 1, these organisations are in fact breeding grounds for stress, depression and anxiety for many In the workforce, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, domestic violence and even suicide.  When you don’t feel in control of your surroundings, all but the most resilient lose out. In these organisations even the resilient feel disengaged and not passionate about their organisation and its potential, often quietly saying how stupid management is. These organisations say there are no gender issues here despite the very low percentage of women in the workplace. People are appointed on merit right?  Except women can’t drive diggers and dozers as it may jiggle their ovaries and prevent them having babies the old story still goes, women are too small to work in mining where you need stronger people say even small framed men, women are risk adverse and not good at making decisions in today’s uncertain and changing world they say, and women who wear dresses to job interviews in mining are certainly not robust enough to work in the sector. In these organisations women with children are questioned about how they will cope with having children and working in the sector whereas men never are asked these questions. In these organisations a ‘toxic masculinity’ culture dominates in which men and alpha women strive to control and exploit employees and the surrounding world. Fear is used as the weapon of control. The dominant culture assumes men cannot be weak and women must be perfect.

Stage 2 organisations have moved on in the organisational maturity path to having stated values and procedures which suggest attention to developing employees usually mostly around areas of technical competence , work/life balance and the wellness of employees and the surrounding environment end communities. However, while the processes and systems talk of flexible working hours, parental leave, employee wellbeing schemes, and organisational values suggest behaviours of humanity, in practice little has changed. The enacted values remain dominated by fear.  People don’t take maternity or paternity leave even when available for fear of losing their job. Stress, lack of caring, lack of focusing on optimising individuals and through them the organisation, and unconscious bias and lazy, fast thinking, dominate behaviours.

Stage 3 organisations show the beginning of enacted change. Systems and processes and now managers are realising people do their best when they feel supported and encouraged to optimise their physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing. When employees are allowed to optimise themselves, they can commit to optimising the organisation. By encouraging critical thinking and questioning of the status quo and evidenced based problem solving,  people, not capital assets, are recognised as the organisation’s most valued resource.

Stage 4 organisations are emerging . Organisations which are truly thinking organisations where critical thinking is the norm and people are encouraged to make intelligent judgments. Education is invested in people enabling them to optimise their holistic wellbeing, to think about and express creative ideas, where you are encouraged to question. People are empowered to choose and are not classified according to the unconscious biases around gender, age and race. In these careful, slow thinking organisations, employees can live and work optimally as intelligent, creative and strong individuals. Employees are encouraged to be thoughtful, reflective, respectful of different views and perspectives, explaining and understanding differences. People listen to understand not to rebut. The boss provides parental support to all and opportunities to take initiative, coaching employees, awarding and crediting employees for their achievements not taking credit for themselves. In these organisations’ employers encourage optimal family and personal lives with all employees encouraged to express and not suppress their emotions, often men learning to do so for the first time when their upbringing has suppressed emotional development. Everyone is treated with tolerance, respect and consideration. The stage 4 organisation sees itself as a member of the community  with wider responsibilities than just the short-term wellbeing of the organisation itself. The organisation works with others together to create a better community and environment for all.  These are learning organisations reflectively learning from their mistakes, never blaming others, and encouraging the same learning mindset in their employees. Employees are confident about themselves and know their special qualities and purposes, they are respected by others. Everyone focuses on sustainable outcomes through humane practices. In this end game world, organisations live by harmonising their activities with communities and with nature. They respect the environment and nature. Men and women give up their grip on the fable of control, in fact we all need to work together to optimise the fragile balance and complexity of the world and those around us. In this world people can recognise their vulnerability and develop the courage to thoughtfully change. An egalitarian world where women and men can all strive to realise what is truly important to them and humanity.

Mining has to date been a laggard on the gender journey. However often laggards can come from behind and learn from the lessons and mistakes of other organisations and actually leap frog their progression using the latest best practice thinking.

Join the movement to achieve this outcome.

Rosemary Howard

Rosemary Howard

Facilitator, Coach and Mentor for CEOs and Senior Executives

Rosemary has over 30 years’ experience in executive leadership with a focus on technology, business and government. Leveraging this extensive experience, she facilitates programs designed to develop leaders and deliver commercial outcomes. Rosemary coaches high potential managers and executives and helps capacity build in strategy and capability development.