OceanaGold’s Waihi Operation has undertaken a critical workplace design assessment to deliver better wellbeing and workplace engagement outcomes for its female employees, with the results to be implemented across the company’s global operations.

With low turnover and a predominantly male underground workforce, the management team at OceanaGold’s Waihi Operation, in New Zealand’s North Island, has commenced a journey to increase female participation and promote a more inclusive work environment.

“There is a really strong desire by the whole team – and more broadly across OceanaGold – to increase diversity, equity and inclusion across our workplaces, especially in roles traditionally perceived to be ‘male only’, such as underground operations,” said OceanaGold’s New Zealand People and Culture Manager, Brigid Quinn.

“What we know is that modern mining workplaces are based on male centred design – that’s not a criticism of OceanaGold or any other mining company – it’s simply because, in the past, predominantly only males were employed for such labour-intensive work and these roles attracted males more than females,” she said.

“And quite possibly, that’s why there’s a strong perception in our community – which makes up most of our workforce – that underground roles are only suitable for men.”

“We‘ve set out to change that perception, but first, we need to better understand how our environment can adapt to ensure we attract and retain growing numbers of females in operational roles so they feel at ease with their workplace environment and conditions.”

The Waihi team engaged female inclusion expert and Director at Shesfreetobe, Kristy Christensen, to undertake a Workplace Design Assessment called ‘A Day in Her Life.’

The assessment reviewed both the surface and underground layouts at Waihi (including job design, equipment design and facilities), PPE (personal protective equipment) provisions and site policies against the health, safety and wellbeing needs of female employees.

Kristy confirmed our experience; the small female talent pool in the New Zealand mining industry made it highly competitive, and that OceanaGold needed to invest in ways to make the company, and industry, a more desirable destination for a long-term career.

“In such a traditionally male dominated industry, it’s vital that mining companies support women’s bespoke requirements to ensure they thrive, particularly in underground environments,” Kristy said.

“Female participation is increasing across the sector, and workforce design requires a re-think to ensure businesses recognise and address these needs,” she said.

As an immediate outcome of the assessment, OceanaGold took a closer look at the role of a ‘nipper’ – an entry-level position that supports a jumbo operator. This is important because the career progression from here sees employees advance to a truck driver, service crew, bogger and then a jumbo operator.

Brigid said the role is quite physical in nature, requiring the person to move a range of equipment in support of the jumbo operator, and that could potentially discourage women to apply.

“We have introduced a ‘trainee mine operator’ role, which gives all applicants a 10-week opportunity to work as both a nipper and truck driver,” Brigid said.

“This is an opportunity to provide a thorough overview of underground mine operations and the career pathways each entry-level role offers, and importantly, to lighten the load of the very physical nipper role by adding trucking into the mix,” she said.

While the findings may have challenged traditional thinking, OceanaGold has embraced the recommendations – not just at the Waihi Operation, but globally – and will incrementally implement them in 2021.

Other workplace design changes will be incrementally implemented across the company as part of a strengthened global focus on workplace diversity and inclusion, including:

  • PPE – ensuring a size-inclusive women’s range is readily available (not just offering a men’s range in smaller sizes, for example), offering a maternity range, and changes to harnesses to avoid pressure on the chest
  • Facilities – increasing sanitary provisions in underground environments
  • Flexible work provisions – assessing opportunities to accommodate different roster patterns
  • Policy – introduction of the Fair Employment Policy.

“We hope these changes will help to entice a new generation of women from diverse backgrounds to choose OceanaGold as the destination to grow their career,” Brigid said.

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