The importance of diversifying the workforce in the resources sector has made its way to the forefront of conversations on how organisations can create more inclusive and welcome environments for employees. After years of noticing the lack of representation in leadership teams and Boards throughout the resources industry, Founder and Managing Director of consulting firm Premier Strategy and winner of 2023 Victorian Women in Resources’ Gender Diversity Champion Award, Joanna Stevens, decided to take matters into her own hands.
Mining Magazine (MM): Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
Joanna Stevens (JS): I am the managing director of Premier Strategy; a communications, engagement and advocacy consulting company that specialises in the resources and renewables sectors.
I started Premier Strategy in my bedroom after I was made redundant while five months pregnant with my eldest child. Two decades on, and four children later, Premier Strategy has grown into one of Australia’s leading boutique consulting firms working for a range of clients across the renewable, mining, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors.
Today, we have close to 30 employees operating across the southeastern coast of Australia with offices in Ballarat, Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney. In my role, I love that every week is different. Some days I might be walking up the halls of Parliament House, engaging with ministers on a meaningful advocacy campaign, while on other days I could be seated at the kitchen table of a farmer’s property, listening to their feedback on a new wind farm project.
MM: In your words, what does gender diversity mean? Why is it important?
JS: In the resources sector, it’s no secret that women are vastly underrepresented in management positions. And yet research and real-life examples consistently show us that diversity in a workplace not only enhances financial and operating performance, but also boosts productivity and promotes innovation and strategic resilience.
In this fast-paced world, where the challenges of artificial intelligence and climate change are present, we need to tackle these obstacles head-on. We need a workforce that reflects the diversity of the world we live in.
It’s not just about ticking a box; it’s about harnessing the power of creative thinking and using our different perspectives and experiences to solve complex problems.
Achieving gender diversity requires collective effort and commitment from everyone – not just a select few. We all have a role to play in making gender diversity a reality.
MM: What first brought your attention to the lack of gender diversity across Australian workforces?
JS: I honed my skills initially in a newsroom and then later within the walls of Parliament House – two professional environments heavily dominated by men. It was the nineties, and there were no provisions for flexible work arrangements, paid parental leave, or childcare support. There were also very few female mentors and leaders.
As my career progressed, and my company expanded in the resources sector, I was invited into more meetings, conferences, workshops. I was often the only female in these spaces.
This lack of representation is what inspired my vision: to help resource companies achieve 25 per cent female representation on their boards.
MM: In your opinion, how is the lack of gender diversity different in the mining and resources sector?
JS: Many years ago, I was invited to give strategic advice on how a mining company could attract and retain its female employees. When I looked at the leadership team and the Board, I noticed the complete absence of women. As I began researching, I realised they weren’t alone.
The underrepresentation of women in the mining and resources sector is a systemic issue deeply rooted in cultural norms, perceptions of physical demands and safety risks, a lack of female role models, limited educational pathways, and inadequate work-life balance initiatives.
However, the world has undergone significant changes over the past 20 years. We now have platforms like Zoom, we have more female CEOs, we have millennials and Gen Zs, we have gender quotas, greater access to sponsorships and scholarships, and we have leadership teams that prioritise inclusivity and diversity.
While there is still much ground to cover, I believe we have the momentum and drive to shatter the glass ceiling.
MM: Why did you personally begin advocating for gender diversity? What are some of the ways you’re working to increase gender diversity?
JS: My drive for greater gender diversity stemmed from sheer frustration. I was tired of being the only female presenting to a Board or sitting in a minister’s office.
I wanted to see more women be at the helm, leading me on the tours of multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects, or running me through the groundbreaking renewable technologies. I wanted to see more women donning high-vis and hardhats!
But to talk the talk, you must walk the walk, which meant I had to look at my own company.
Today, I am proud to say I have created a workplace that is flexible, outcome-based, and breaks many traditional corporate rules – rules such as a workday is nine to five, a workweek is Monday to Friday, and a workplace is in an office.
As a result, Premier Strategy has become an attractive option for many women who prefer working for a boutique, regional business over a large corporation. My colleagues appreciate the freedom to balance the demands of household and family life while knowing they have the trust and support of their team.
In addition to the flexibility, we have also introduced a ‘buddy’ program where we pair our junior employees with experienced mentors. This initiative provides employees with opportunities for professional development, skill-building, and guidance.
MM: Can you discuss some of the processes organisations can employ to increase the diversity of their workforces?
JS: Practise what you preach – if you truly believe in the importance of gender diversity, you must reflect this in your leadership team and Board.
Invest in your staff. Offer opportunities for leadership development whether it’s through training programs or giving them the chance to take on important responsibilities like speaking at a client networking event, leading a team meeting, delivering a workshop.
Create a workplace that values flexibility. Offer options like remote work, flexible hours, and job-sharing arrangements. Recognise that people have diverse needs and responsibilities outside of work, and flexibility and trust helps them to thrive in both their personal and professional lives.
But above all, create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. Promote an atmosphere that is respectful, kind and open, where every voice is heard and valued. Treat every team member the same, from the person who stocks the fridge with almond milk to the senior advisor who you turn to on your worst day.
It’s not just about listing your company values on your website, you must live by them.
MM: What more needs to bedone to increase gender diversity, particularly in the resources sector?
JS: While progress has been made to increase gender diversity, there is still so much more to be done to achieve meaningful and sustainable change such as encouraging girls to pursue education and careers in STEM fields.
We must continue to challenge the stereotypes and biases that discourage women from entering the resources sector. We must continue to promote positive narratives and stories and highlight women’s achievements and contributions. We must create more mentorship programs, and networking opportunities.
But most importantly, we must improve the leadership opportunities for women. We need to encourage more boards to have gender quotas and more organisations to offer professional pathway programs.