Sexual harassment persists at BHP after millions spent on women’s safety

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BHP Group Ltd. chief executive Mike Henry said the world’s biggest miner still has “some ways to go” to create a safe environment for all female employees after the company recently saw a 20% increase in reported sexual harassment.

The company, which this year completed a A$300 million ($191 million) project to make its mining villages in Western Australia safer by adding extra CCTV cameras, security lighting, doors and fences, has disclosed cases of sexual harassment reported and established in the 12 months to June rose to 124 from 103 the year before. About a quarter of the 475 reports of harassment were substantiated, the company reported.

“There’s unacceptable behavior that continues to happen inside the company,” Henry said in a telephone interview. “It does require culture and capability shift and that’s something we’ve been investing a lot of time and effort in but as the reporting shows, we still have some ways to go.”

Of the 167 cases substantiated in the year to June, including cases reported in the prior period, 165 people responsible for the conduct were either fired or removed from site if they were a contractor, or resigned. “And we won’t be satisfied until this behavior has disappeared from from BHP, just like on other safety-related incidents,” Henry said.

The mining industry’s treatment of women has come under increased scrutiny since a government inquiry in West Australia state discovered “horrific” incidents at remote projects. At Rio Tinto Group, more than a quarter of female workers experienced sexual harassment, the company said last year.

Henry said the public disclosure around instances of sexual harassment itself signals a cultural change at the miner, where the percentage of female employees has doubled to 35.2% since 2016, when it set a gender parity target. Since then, the miner has “become a higher performing company, safer, more productive, both in absolute terms but also in relative terms to the competition and executing better on strategy,” Henry said.

Women accounted for 22.9% of the total workforce last year at London-based Rio Tinto Group, the No. 2 miner, according to its annual report published in February. Female representation in Rio Tinto’s senior leadership roles rose to 28.3%.

Women now make up half of BHP’s executive leadership team. It aims for the overall workforce to be 40:40 by 2025 — a corporate target that means the company wants 40% women, 40% men and 20% any gender.

BHP is among 55% of Australia’s top 100 companies that have set a target of 40:40 or above, according to data released Wednesday from leadership advocacy group Chief Executive Women. CEW is urging more companies to follow its lead because women remain underrepresented in leadership teams across Australia’s biggest businesses, while gender parity at the top is still at least half a century away at the current rate.

The CEW data show 91% of ASX300 CEOs are male, and seven in 10 executive roles are held by men. Of those companies, 26 have female CEOs, up from 18 in 2022. Only 23% of ASX300 companies have gender balanced executive leadership teams, even after a big improvement from 2022, when it was 6%.

“We know that diverse teams make better decisions in all respects,” CEW President Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz said in an interview. “They perform better for shareholders, they perform better for the planet, they perform better for their customers and their people.”

(By Amy Bainbridge and Nabila Ahmed, with assistance from David Stringer)


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