Neil Hamilton: Copper-gold miner OZ Minerals makes a stand on diversity

Published: 10/07/2013


By Brooke Showers

COPPER-gold miner OZ Minerals, an industry leader in achieving gender diversity targets, says the sector needs to grow its pool of women in senior executive roles and retain that talent to take on board positions.

When OZ Minerals chairman Neil Hamilton first came on board in 2010, the first thing he wanted to do was appoint a female board member.

That same year, OZ appointed its first female board member, former BP Australia chief financial officer Rebecca McGrath as an independent non-executive director, who is still with the business.

Presenting at a Women on Boards networking forum last week, Hamilton said it was old news now debating whether boards need to be more diverse and the debate had moved on to how was the best way to do it. “Five years ago, the debate was a group of guys sitting in a boardroom saying, ‘I think we’re going to have to appoint a woman to this board’,” Hamilton said. “The debate now is about what is the best way of changing our diversity practice. “We all understand the issue of under-representation on the board. “We understand the debate is going on and we understand and accept that ASX corporate governance advisors, media, shareholder groups [and] groups like Women on Boards are actively involved in encouraging this debate.”

There is increasing recognition in the mining industry that it is in a business’s best interest to have a diverse board. “The debate has gone to a new level and it’s a far better, more intelligent and proactive debate,” Hamilton said. “It will possibly lead to the sorts of outcomes that Women on Boards are talking about. “Whether it will match the exact timelines, it won’t go in a straight line, but be assured it has a momentum now which can’t be constrained.”

In 2011, OZ Minerals set targets for its diversity which included having female board members at all times, employing at least one indigenous Australian to a supervisor role and ensuring multiple entry level operational roles were being recruited for, with at least one reserved for a female applicant.

In OZ Mineral’s business leadership area, which includes positions directly reporting to the chief executive officer, there are four people employed and one is female. Women make up 16% of the work force at superintendent level, 30% in supervisory and tertiary roles, and 29% at individual level.

Hamilton said to achieve some of the gender diversity outcomes many companies were striving for and increase the amount of female non-executive directors, it was fundamental to first increase the percentage of women in executive leadership roles in corporations.

“Grow the talent – that is the most important objective we should be pursuing,” Hamilton said. “The talent pool won’t develop overnight, however I’d very much like to see the focus be driven on this issue of increasing the size of the talent pool.”

Hamilton said boards needed to look outside the traditional directorship pool to women in senior executive roles and people who are thinking of a five to seven-year transition from executive life to a life as a non-executive director.

“I think what that creates for us is a much deeper pool and a wider pool,” he said. In the mining industry, mining engineers have dominated senior executive roles and, by extension, board appointments. “Mining companies’ head offices are heavily occupied with mining engineers, which remains a male domain,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know the stats but it seems to me that we’re not seeing anecdotally the number of women graduates in that field.”

But while mining engineering experience is important on a board it is not the only skill needed. “Issues around logistics, infrastructure planning, marketing, investor relations and human resources are in aggregate a much bigger part of your organisation, than mining engineering and the execution of it,” Hamilton said. “In those areas, women are working in it, represented in it and growing in numbers.”

As the global market has evolved surrounding mining, most major companies approach mining as a value chain through efficient logistics planning. To be strategic, boards need to attract people from a range of professional backgrounds, including marketing, accounting and law. This is good news for the evolution of gender diversity, because women occupy many roles in these fields. “I think there is reluctance still in Australia for boards to go outside the traditional calling,” Hamilton said.

He said larger companies were genuinely working hard to quite effectively change things, but at the smaller end there was a long way to go towards changing prevailing attitudes.

OZ Minerals recognises there will be times when it doesn’t meet its targets but it will examine why not. Hamilton said the company had an aggressive policy of encouragement on gender diversity, although it always preferred to hire the best person for the job. The company promotes a culture called “employ to keep”, which looks at ways of retaining employees through flexible hours, for example during child rearing.

“We made a big investment in these people and we’ve brought them into the organisation and trained them for ten years, seen them develop and grow,” Hamilton said. “God knows we don’t want them to leave.” The trick is to find ways to keep women moving along the development curve, on the same path as those who choose to stay and work full time.

When it comes to quotas to promote more women to board positions, a popular topic of debate throughout the industry at present, especially amongst the Women on Board members, Hamilton isn’t convinced. “On quotas generally, I see them as a last resort,” he said. “I have reservations. I think there are challenges with doing it and there are dangers.”

Hamilton has operated on boards which required two union people, and other boards in China which had rules around requirements for ethnicity and religion. Hamilton said in these circumstances, the process was taken away from the board and then the board was not really doing what it was designed to do, “which is have that debate and have that fresh thinking”. “If we impose too many quotas or allow the thing to be driven by numbers rather than logic, then I think we might finish up with less than desired outcomes.”