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Rethinking Merit for a Sustainable Mining Industry


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Author K Hobbs


Mining is experiencing a difficult period of low profitability and declining productivity. To achieve sustainability, mining companies are challenged with improving output, quality and safety while decreasing costs. At the same time, organisations are having to manage a workforce in which individuals no longer accept a traditional style of management, employees prefer more flexible employment, and diversity within teams is becoming the expected norm.

Increasing organisational diversity has been shown to have a positive impact on performance and therefore sustainability. Gender diversity and equality between working men and women is the area most studied in this regard. Executives are becoming more aware of the correlation between gender diversity and performance with some larger organisations having dedicated resources to increase the number and status of women in their organisations. Despite this, limited improvement in gender equality is apparent globally over the last decade with some industries, including mining, going backwards. So why is this the case and what other strategies are available?

In 2015, the United Nations Women National Committee Australia (UN Women NCA) in conjunction with Autopia released a white paper discussing the lack of visible change in gender equality despite the widespread implementation of merit-based personnel management strategies. Using research from around the world and thoughts from influential government, education and business leaders, the paper ‘Rethinking Merit’ debunks the myth of the meritocracy. It provides a number of recommendations for organisations committed to improving their performance and sustainability through diversity, including a variety of real-life company examples, instead of relying solely on merit-based decision-making.

This paper takes the recommendations of ‘Rethinking Merit’ and applies them to the mining industry. It shows the relevance that rethinking merit has for the industry and why applying the recommendations can result in an increase in diversity, therefore enabling greater performance and sustainability of mining companies. This paper provides case studies from Aurizon, Iluka Resources and BHP Billiton and, as a guide for managers, a generic diversity strategy designed to be implemented alongside traditional merit-based personnel management techniques.


Hobbs, K, 2016. Rethinking merit for a sustainable mining industry, in Proceedings International Mine Management Conference, pp 139-154 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).