My moral compass has been spinning in all directions since I left the WASM (WA School of Mines) Alumni annual gala ball a few weeks ago. After all, I was a guest of the event thanks to a partnership I’ve formed through She’s Empowered, but what should have been an amazing night celebrating remarkable people in the resources industry, left me feeling shocked and uneasy.
Firstly, I want to pre-empt what follows with a disclaimer. I respect what the WASM Alumni does for our industry, and for the people in it, and I value our commercial partnership. But I have spent years building my personal and professional brand advocating women in industry, and it would be remiss of me not to follow my gut and speak out around the lack of understanding of diversity we’re still facing.
When my partner and I arrived to the annual gala ball, we were approached by a gentleman during the pre-drinks networking function, who was keen to speak with us. So I thought! From the moment he introduced himself, this man’s body language and dialogue was completely directed at my partner. It was like I wasn’t even there! Stu told him he was the ‘plus one’ at the event alongside me, and at that moment I started to introduce myself, only to have this man interrupt me by talking over me to someone he knew in the room. He didn’t excuse himself or apologise, it was blatant disrespect. Which given he knew nothing about me, I can only attribute it to my gender. Until this moment, I have advocated industry diversity and inclusion as a social issue, but now it’s personal. For the first time in my life, I felt completely invisible being a woman in a so called man’s world.
The night continued with the President of the WASM alumni giving a speech which was clearly scripted to encourage and celebrate women in the industry. He inducted a woman as a life member and told the audience of the first mill manager he appointed being a woman. Unfortunately, scripts mean nothing when the speaker doesn’t believe it. What drew boos and moans from the audience, was his throwaway comment about women in the room not being able to follow his speech due to the technical mining references. This, from a leader in the mining industry. If something like this can happen on a public stage, how often are these comments and beliefs being spruiked in the everyday workplace?
What’s REALLY happening in industry board rooms, underground, open cut, makeshift offices and mess halls? We’re seeing an increase in formal HR policies and procurement teams promoting inclusion and gender diversity, but if the message is limited to formalities, blogs and conferences, then what good is it? If industry leaders can make public remarks about women not understanding technical mining terms, who else is getting away with inappropriate and downright disgusting behaviour in the workplace?
It was hard for me to write this, and I have no idea of the consequences, if any, for doing so. But I’m not going to stop doing what I feel is right. In fact, I’m more fired up now than I was before. I realise now that we’re not battling society any more. We’re battling our own. And that’s personal.