May 2010

Beyond tokenistic engagement

Rio Tinto’s new gender guide charts a path towards true inclusiveness

By M. Eisner

Rio Tinto Exploration conducts community consultation in Madhya Pradesh, India

Jane Gronow readily admits that her view of the world is coloured by gender issues. Hired three years ago as a principal advisor for community relations by Rio Tinto, she was charged with leading the development of the 104-page company document, “Why gender matters: A resource guide for integrating gender consideration into communities work at Rio Tinto,” that was released in November last year.

As a former program coordinator for international humanitarian and development work at UNICEF and Oxfam, Gronow has had a bird’s-eye view of the gravest inequities in the most vulnerable populations, from human trafficking to the sexual exploitation of children.

Mining, of course, could not be more different from the worlds Gronow once worked in. Nevertheless, being a traditionally male-dominated industry, it experiences gender inequalities across all sectors, from exploration and production all the way up to the highest echelons of corporate board rooms.

How it began

The need for a gender guide arose when one of Gronow’s colleagues requested some guidance for addressing gender concerns at an exploration site in South America. “The project was ramping up quickly, and a number of the men were getting jobs,” recalls Gronow.

It being a subsistence community, sharing had been the norm. “But now, men were getting the money and were spending it on non-essentials like alcohol and motorbikes,” says Gronow, explaining why, in a place where local hiring is regarded as a major benefit of mine development, the women were actually becoming more marginalized by the local hiring practices of the operation.

Gronow and others began looking at a number of models in the developing world, and as they started putting together a strategy, they realized that no one was looking at it from a business perspective. It then became apparent that it was important to develop an answer to the question, “How does gender impact our business?”

The answers were disconcerting. “There was a gap to be filled that was created by our impact as a mining company on women and gender relations, particularly in non-OECD countries,” Gronow says. “We had a negative impact and, in many communities where women were vulnerable, we made it worse.” 

As a result, work began with the leadership and support of Bruce Harvey, the global practice leader for communities. “Rio Tinto worked with the University of Queensland’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) to start off with something small — a position paper articulating the business case for gender-sensitivity,” Gronow explains.

Gradually, over the course of two years, these preliminary investigations took the shape of the gender guide. It comprises a combination of practical guidance: 11 case studies and a section on background reading. In addition to determining ways to encourage gender equality, the guide also seeks to promote diversity in all sectors of the industry — a strategic priority for Rio Tinto.

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