Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards

WOMEN in mining, particularly in the boardroom, remains a hot topic in 2013 – and one that will continue until boardroom gender balance further resets itself. This week Allan Trench has some sage counsel for women in the mining sector boardroom – courtesy of a wise old (male) friend.
Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards Wise counsel for women on mining sector boards


Staff Reporter

Boardroom gender statistics is a topic that Strictly Boardroom has commented upon previously as it pertains to the minerals sector* – and a topic to which conversation returned this week with an old mentor and friend who is a veteran of numerous mining sector boards.

Rather than ask the same old questions of his friend, who wishes to remain anonymous – such as should gender balance in the boardroom be mandated by quota, for example, Strictly Boardroom thought to ask what one hopes is a more useful question.

Specifically, what counsel would a veteran board member offer to an incoming female colleague in the minerals sector boardroom?

The answers surprised your scribe at first but upon reflection they seem spot on.

Here are the two principal pieces of advice.

  • “Don't ever take it that if you feel you are being ignored in the boardroom dialogue that it is a gender thing. It is perfectly normal and indeed quite usual for male non-executive directors to feel they are not being listened too also. For example the managing director may ignore your comment and answer another question entirely. Similarly, the chairman may either ignore your comment in favour of keeping the meeting moving along – else may be lip service to it and rapidly move on. Neither effect is gender driven – but neither makes for very good board performance either!”

Next, on the technical aspects of exploration, mining and mineral processing – your scribe’s mentor offered the following:

  • “Don’t ever think that because some technical issue seems incomprehensible, obscure and odd that it may reflect that fact you have not in your career had firsthand experience of [insert some specific aspect of geology, mining or metallurgy here]. Board members with lots more 'mine-time' than yourself are probably equally as confused as you are. Your lack of understanding is not your fault – so speak up. It more likely reflects management's inability to either a) understand the issue themselves, or b) communicate even their limited understanding effectively.”

Both the above snippets of counsel ring true.

Why? Despite having both an X and a Y chromosome, your scribe has often been ignored in the boardroom – as too it appears has my older colleague.

Similarly, your scribe admits to being confused on many occasions in the boardroom too, even in areas where his technical experience places him in a relatively strong position – as an example, ask your MD to explain the relative benefits of various frequency domain versus time domain electromagnetic systems in ground versus airborne sulphide exploration and see what comes back!

A conclusion: how about the suggestion that increasing the number of X chromosomes in the minerals boardroom will not, of itself, lift company performance levels – despite research claiming that three or more females in the boardroom can achieve higher company performance in the general case.

Aiming to fix improve intra-board communication may well do, however.

Good hunting.

Allan Trench is a Professor at Curtin Graduate School of Business and Professor (Value & Risk) at the Centre for Exploration Targeting, University of Western Australia, a Non-Executive Director of several resource sector companies - and the Perth representative for CRU Strategies, a division of independent metals & mining advisory CRU group (allan.trench@crugroup.com).

*Women on mining boards – the top 100 companies (April 2012); Exploration boardrooms slow to discover female directors (January 2012); Put gender on the agenda (August 2010)