A report released by HESTA – the largest superannuation fund dedicated to Australia’s health and community services sector – urges Australian mining companies to prioritise tackling workplace sexual harassment.

With a $3 billion investment in the Australian mining industry, HESTA engaged with 19 mining companies in its portfolio, expressing its concerns and seeking to understand how they manage workplace sexual harassment.

The report, Engagement and Insight Report into Workplace Sexual Harassment in the Australian Mining Sector, encourages mining companies to adopt six insights and key actions to address the issue.

The insights outlined in the report are as follows:

  1. Boards can signal intention from the top and have a responsibility to embed comprehensive oversight
  2. Having a safety strategy that addresses known risk factors can be key to proactive management of workplace sexual harassment
  3. Integrating a gender lens into the design of physical spaces may contribute to prevention
  4. Having an inclusive culture is key to preventing workplace sexual harassment
  5. Gender diversity in leadership can promote a respectful workforce culture and be a useful tool in tackling inappropriate workplace behaviour
  6. Improved measurement and reporting can facilitate transparency and promote a continuous improvement approach

Gender inequality is a significant driver of workplace sexual harassment in the Australian mining sector, where women comprise only a fifth of workers.

The report encourages mining companies to have a safety strategy that addresses known risk factors and integrate a gender lens into the design of physical spaces.

HESTA also encourages greater transparency and reporting from Australian mining companies to ensure investors have adequate information to assess risk, controls, and governance oversight.

Around 80 per cent of HESTA’s more than one million members are women. CEO of HESTA, Debby Blakey, said workplace sexual harassment was unacceptable.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey

HESTA CEO, Debby Blakey. Image credit: HESTA

“At HESTA, we want to invest in companies that facilitate the equal participation of women and create cultures that fully harness the value of women, as we know that gender-diverse companies perform better across a range of metrics,” Ms Blakey said.

“Sexual harassment can create legal and financial risks, affect employee wellbeing and productivity, and damage a company’s reputation and social licence to operate – negatively impacting HESTA members’ retirement savings.”

While some mining companies are more progressed than others, Ms Blakey said that all those HESTA spoke to have initiated some level of activity or interventions to address workplace sexual harassment.

“Greater diversity strengthens our workplaces – and a greater representation of women in the Australian mining sector, especially in leadership roles, will benefit everyone,” Ms Blakey said.

“HESTA acknowledges that cultural and systemic change can take time, but our members expect momentum towards workplace gender equality.

“Our engagement with the mining sector contributes to outcomes that we believe are in members’ best financial interests.”

HESTA will seek future engagement with Australian mining companies to gauge how this issue is tackled.

This engagement with mining companies follows a similar approach undertaken with the sector concerning the protection of cultural heritage after the destruction at Juukan Gorge.

HESTA identified that protecting cultural heritage and respecting relationships with traditional owners were a potential systemic risk across the mining sector.The superannuation fund then engaged with relevant investee companies and developed an insights report it shared, providing a snapshot of current approaches, identifying gaps, and highlighting good practice examples. 

HESTA subsequently helped create a set of investor standards to assist investors in identifying potential risks and effectively use engagement to better understand a company’s management and oversight of cultural heritage protection.

“This active ownership approach is an excellent example of how HESTA constructively engages across a sector to help drive change that can help mitigate systemic risk that may empact our members’ investments,” Ms Blakey said.

“The added advantage of this approach is that it provides a broader sector-wide perspective to the Boards and senior management of these companies, as well as also helping other investors to understand where potential risks may lie.”

Several companies within the Australian mining sector have become signatories to 40:40 Vision, an investor-led initiative that seeks to achieve gender balance in executive teams of ASX 300 companies by 2030.

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