Elizabeth Gaines

Fortescue Metals Group CEO
In her own words . . .

Why commit to better balance?

I spent a number of my early school years in the Kimberley where the benefits of diversity were made clear to me from a very early age. I found myself in classrooms full of children from all walks of life, who brought a whole range of different experiences and perspectives. Through that lens and from my experiences throughout my life and career I have seen first-hand that encouraging diversity is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.

There is evidence that diversity in the boardroom delivers better outcomes for shareholders. In recent years, strong progress has been made on this front and I am proud to be part of a company with over 50 per cent female representation on our Board of Directors. 

However, if you look at Australia’s top ASX100 companies, there are currently more CEOs with the name ‘Dave’ or ‘John’ than there are women CEOs. Corporate Australia needs to address this by focusing on leadership development, retention of female talent and ensuring more balance and flexibility in the workplace to ensure we have equal representation of genders in the C-Suite roles. In turn, this will ensure we have a strong pipeline of Board ready candidates, both male and female.

Our recently lodged Workplace Gender Equality Act report details Fortescue’s achievements and goals in creating equality and diversity, including increasing our female employment from 16.7 percent in 2017 to 17.3 percent in 2018. We are on our way to reaching our goal of a 25 percent female workforce by 2020.

While we are pleased to see the steady increase in our female participation rate, diversity is not simply about filling a quota. To achieve a truly diverse workplace, an embedded culture of inclusion is critical and this is a responsibility which lies with the entire workforce.

Fortescue is proud to have introduced a number of leading workplace diversity initiatives:

1. Flexibility in the workplace

Setting the tone for an inclusive, flexible workplace starts with leaders genuinely understanding the needs of individual team members and offering a variety of flexible working options, including job share, part-time and flexible start and finish times. These options should not just apply to an office-based workforce but should extend to all roles, including those on shiftwork or a fly-in, fly-out roster.

The implementation of these working options as well as a flexible workplace is significant in supporting gender diversity and inclusivity, especially for parents juggling their careers and family commitments.

2. Supporting parents

Family is one of Fortescue’s core values and along with safety resonates very strongly across our workforce.

Introducing a family-friendly workplace which supports parents is key to encouraging diversity and inclusiveness. For example, the Fortescue Family Room provides parents with alternative child-minding services and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

3. Building talent pools

To benefit from increased diversity in the resources sector, we also need to ensure we are building a greater pool of talent. Nationally, female participation in the trades servicing the mining industry is only one per cent and at Fortescue we are helping build a pipeline of women who are ready to pursue a career in the trades. 

4. Programs such as Fortescue’s Trade Up and Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTEC) are providing female team members with practical measures to gain trade qualifications. Since 2006, more than 200 Aboriginal women have been trained and employed through VTEC, representing 25 per cent of all participants in the program.

At our rail operations, we are trialing a traineeship program aimed at female school leavers, offering entry-level positions and providing a clear career pathway.

5. Creating safe working environments

We aspire to create a space where every member of the Fortescue family is safe and as part of this focus are currently focused on becoming a White Ribbon accredited workplace. This is an important step in our commitment to be an industry leader on important issues impacting women and encouraging everyone to stand up, speak and act to prevent domestic violence.

Implementing initiatives that cater to a diverse workforce sends a strong message about our organisation’s attitude to inclusivity and the expectations of our people. We hope that by ‘walking-the-walk’ we are breaking down the silo mentality and encouraging a unified, inclusive team.

Of course, inclusivity extends beyond gender and includes ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and those living with a disability. None of these should result in an unfair disadvantage or voice that is less important than others. For a company to be the best it can be, it needs to harness the very best ideas across every part of its business and empower its workforce to collaborate across all levels.

The best results will come from a diverse workforce who have a broad range of backgrounds, skills, experience and personalities and who are supported and encouraged to reach their full potential.