Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Mining Giant BHP Wants to Banish the Boys' Club

  • BHP seeking more female candidates for top executive jobs
  • Producer held talks with ANZ on boosting workforce diversity

BHP Billiton Ltd., the No. 1 mining company, is taking diversity lessons from banks and law enforcement to achieve a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 and promote women into top executives.

The miner has held talks with companies including Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. on policies to boost female recruitment and retention, Laura Tyler, Melbourne-based BHP’s chief of staff and head of geoscience, said Wednesday in an interview at Bloomberg’s Sydney office.

Laura Tyler

Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

“Banking had also been seen as a boys’ club and the high street banks, the retail banking sector, has made a huge turnaround,” said Tyler, 50, who was appointed last year to BHP’s 10-strong executive team, one of three women to hold a top leadership post. “We are talking with them about how did they change things.”

Financial companies in the Bloomberg World Index have an average of about 52 percent female staff, the highest among all industries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Materials producers, including BHP and its largest competitor Rio Tinto Group, have the lowest share at 19 percent, the data show.

BHP, which in October announced its target for gender balance, sees a clear commercial case for changing its workforce, according to Tyler. “The sites that are most diverse, and where people say they are most able to speak up and feel inclusive, are delivering our strongest results and our better safety results,” she said.

Better performance by BHP’s workplaces with greater diversity reflects a broader trend. Among more than 4,000 companies in the Bloomberg World Index that disclose the gender of board members or executives, the best performing stocks over three years are those with the highest percentage of female executives. Companies with a larger share of female executives had the lowest price fluctuation and smallest disparity between earnings and analysts’ forecasts, the data show.

BHP’s 10 operations with the highest proportion of female staff perform at least 15 percent better than the producer’s averages on metrics including productivity, safety and meeting production forecasts, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie said in an October memo to staff.

ANZ, Australia’s third-biggest bank, has a woman on every interview panel and on each candidate shortlist, head of private wealth Alexis George said Wednesday at a Bloomberg Voices event in Sydney. The bank has focused on ensuring female employees get more honest appraisals to help them develop, she said.

BHP has also discussed recruitment and practices with Victoria Police, Paris-based catering company Sodexo SA and Telstra Corp., Australia’s biggest telecommunications provider, the miner said in an email.

The producer, where women account for less than a quarter of senior managers, is seeking to prepare a larger pipeline of female staff with the skills and experience necessary to be top executives, Tyler said in the interview.

BHP is seeing some progress in areas including its finance and legal teams, according to Tyler. For example, when a successor for Chief Financial Officer Peter Beaven is needed, “there’s a fairly good chance that there are going to be really smart women banging at that door, just as there will be really smart men who’ve always been there banging at that door,” she said.

To achieve gender balance among about 26,827 direct employees, BHP will need to overturn meager recent progress in the mining sector. The proportion of women employed by mining companies rose to an average of 15.7 percent in most recent full-year reporting from 14.7 percent five years earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Women accounted for 17.6 percent of Melbourne-based BHP’s employees in the 12 months to June 30, according an annual report published in September. That compares to 17 percent in 2012, filings show.

The adoption of technologies that allow mining operations to be controlled or monitored remotely from city center offices is opening opportunities to add more female staff. Among 200 workers at BHP’s Brisbane coal control center, a majority are female and were drawn from previous careers including as nurses, emergency call center operators and military logistics experts, according to the company.

— With assistance by Shin Pei

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