It seems to me that there is a day for everything now. I remember thinking to myself that it was getting a bit out of control when ‘International martini day’ popped up in my newsfeed last year.
These ‘days’ are made up of many things – from the controversial (such as Australia’s national day), to amusing (Chip and Dip day – which to me sounds fantastic but possibly isn’t deserving of its own day), important religious days such as Easter and to commercialised ones such as Valentine’s Day. They come. They go. Some repeat.
International Women’s Day is a ‘day’ for us to focus on and progress the conversation regarding equality and eliminating gender bias.
That’s important to me. It shouldn’t just be a day.
The theme of this years International Women’s Day is ‘Break The Bias’. To me, a young, female, professional expatriate working in Australia’s mining industry, this theme brings the concept of International Women’s Day full-circle.
I don’t think this issue is confusing. The very concept of equal opportunity as it applies to gender is about the elimination of bias. Bias can have many causes and finds a home in many places in our society. I’m not an expert or a social scientist – to me gender bias has its origins in many of society’s traditional constructs – family units, social hierarchy, political power and ultimately, control of and access to money.
As it applies to me – gender bias is confronting within Australia’s mining industry. While much work has been done with regards to discrimination and harassment, progress remains elusive in other areas. If discrimination and harassment were eliminated overnight – what should our next focus to break the bias be? This could include the provision of equal development pathways, female leadership, female governance participation, female mentoring and the commitment to creating equality of access to fields that are traditionality viewed and currently structured as male dominated.
Gender bias needn’t be inherent within mining. I firmly believe that harnessing the power of women to create sustainable, innovative, flexible resources outfits will see operators, providers and contractors achieve better results through the effective mobilisation of the full workforce. When companies create the conditions for equality and work towards creating a zero-bias environment, they are then able to optimise all available labour and talent. As a labour coordinator, I see the power of what this could achieve. When females feel comfortable, empowered and can identify opportunities that match with their ambitions, they are attracted to business. The more attractive to female participants that mining businesses can be – the better off they will be. The labour market constraints due to the pandemics border restrictions have only firmed my opinion on this. Why on earth would anyone want half the possible workforce to not feel empowered?
Fundamentally, I believe that eliminating gender bias is commercial self-interest. It makes sense. Morally, and commercially.
I understand the industry within which I work. I understand its origins in low female participation rates as well as the reasons for this. I understand the biases that prevail, as well as the motives for those that harbor or seek to deploy them.
This understanding empowers me. I am not blind. I can fight my corner. My professional future and comfort in the workplace should not be hindered by gender-based bias. Eliminating these requires action – speaking up, speaking out, making active and practical contributions that constantly position equal opportunity as being good conduct, as well as good business.
Mining companies that take practical steps to eliminate gender bias will find themselves better off. We can all help break the bias by making sure that these steps aren’t just part of a ‘day’ – but become part of the business’ way of operating.
Hanna Haabjärv is a Labour Coordinator currently working for Terra Mining.