Waking up to unconscious bias The business case for gender diversity in the resource industry is a logical one, but the key to achieving it may lay in unlocking our subconscious. ACCORDING to Duncan Smith, unconscious biases influence many of the decisions people make, from which breakfast cereal to eat to who to offer a key promotion. “Unconscious bias is an important piece of the gender diversity puzzle,” says Smith, an associate with professional services firm Diversity Partners. DUNCAN SMITH “It’s not the only piece of the puzzle, but talking about unconscious bias is a good way to engage people who are struggling with diversity and inclusion.” Smith explains that to cope with the daily flood of information coming through our senses, our brains categorise the information, form stereotypes and rely on those stereotypes to make decisions. “It’s not possible to be human and avoid using stereotypes,” he says. “We use these unconscious meanings all the time. “When a hiring manager believes ‘leader’ equals ‘male’, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to reject a female candidate for a leadership role if she has shown outstanding leadership potential. “However, the bar the woman has to clear is much higher because the hiring manager must consciously overcome the belief in the stereotype.”
According to Smith, there are three key strategies to overcoming unconscious bias. “Firstly, don’t just look at the other person as having the problem,” he says. “The biases always go in both directions. “Secondly, understand and engage the dominant culture. In a male dominated organisation, unless you can engage the men in the diversity conversation, you’re going to have limited success. “The third strategy is to understand inclusive leadership and this requires you to be self-aware in order to attract and retain the best people. “Remember that equity is not equality. If you treat everyone exactly the same way you’ll get different outcomes. If you want equitable outcomes, you need to take a different approach.” Smith says the challenge for resource industry leaders is to be aware of how the unconscious drives decision making around workforce diversity and illustrates his point by drawing a parallel to safety. “You wouldn’t just tick the box and say ‘we’re done with safety, we don’t have to think about it anymore’. Safety is a mindset,” he says. “Being aware of biases and engaging in inclusive leadership is also a mindset that must be consciously applied.”
FMG Aboriginal business deal smashes $1bn target FORTESCUE Metals Group (FMG) has achieved its goal of awarding $1 billion in contracts to Aboriginal businesses, months ahead of schedule. The ‘Billion Opportunities’ milestone was reached when FMG recently awarded $500 million in contracts to six joint ventures owned by Native Title Groups for the procurement of services across the company’s Pilbara accommodation villages. The target was set in 2011 for a two-year period, with eligible contractors required to be at least 25% owned by an Aboriginal person or group. The latest deals represent the largest ever package of contracts awarded to Aboriginal business. “We could have given our traditional owners money but that would have been the easy option,” says FMG chief executive Nev Power. “Instead, we have given them something more important – an
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opportunity to provide jobs for their own people, build capacity and build assets.” Of the 102 contracts and subcontracts awarded since the program’s implementation, more than 80% were businesses at least 50% Aboriginal-owned. Brian Tucker, of the Nyiyaparli people, secured a contract as part of a joint venture with Morris Corporation and says the opportunity was a welcome one for the Pilbara’s Aboriginal people. “For a long time we struggled and felt that nobody believed in us, but we kept knocking on doors and now Fortescue has given us an opportunity. We want to take it and do the best job we can,” says Tucker. FMG’s Pilbara workforce is 26% Indigenous, with 460 Indigenous people directly employed and an additional 500 through contracting partners.