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Think differently, mine differently

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In 2020, I read a good article, ‘Neurodiversity – how to attract and retain different ways of thinking’, written by Swann Global’s Janet Bewsey.

It explored the ways in which neurodivergent individuals could not only participate more widely in the mining and metals industry, but how companies could actually harness these individual’s unique capabilities to build a competitively advantaged workforce.

I found it refreshing and exciting to see differences that are usually treated as disadvantages, considered instead as strengths or weaknesses.

We all have strengths and weaknesses after all, whether physical, emotional or mental; our ability to play to those is what makes humans good at different tasks and roles.

I wanted to know more but, outside of Bewsey’s reference list, there was relatively little content available on how the mining industry specifically could embrace people from across the neurological spectrum (from neurotypical to neurodivergent) and create environments that are supportive of everyone.

As with so many topics, I suspect there was work going on behind the scenes, but few people were actually talking about it.

Fast forward two years, and I’m glad to see that this has begun to change

Raising awareness in mining

In 2021, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s (CIM) Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee (DIAC) launched a Neurodiversity Initiative spearheaded by Nermina Harambasic, Kelly Bron Johnson and Nathan Stubina.

The team organised a three-part series of webinars which kicked off with this educational presentation titled ‘The benefits of neurodiversity in mining’.

In it, Johnson who specialises in helping companies to create more inclusive workplaces and organisations, explains why eliminating bias, including towards differences in neurological capability, should be a priority for companies in the mining sector.

“If we’re going to combat discrimination in the workplace – ‘isms’, like racism, sexism and ablism – then we have to work on all of them at the same time. We’re all multifaceted individuals,” she says.

She points out that there are some roles for which neurodivergent individuals are uniquely suited. For instance, some people have exceptional visual-spatial skills, or are able to recognise patterns, think analytically, or notice details that others may not.

These abilities could make them well suited for roles such as quality control and analytics, finance, programming, engineering or 3D modelling; areas in which the industry is currently suffering from a shortage of talent.

IT security is another area in which these types of skills are highly valuable and in which the mining industry is crying out for experienced candidates.

Traditional roles can be suitable too. The key is to make job descriptions and expectations less process-focused, and more goal oriented to allow for different ways of working; in giving individuals a chance to think outside of the box, teams could discover new, more efficient ways to excel.

“We all want to work in the most efficient and productive way possible,” Johnson reminds us. “Ultimately, making workplaces and practices more accessible benefits everyone.”

Case in point: while writing this article I found the subtitles on Johnson’s presentation extremely useful. I’m not hard of hearing, but they allowed me to follow along and make notes without waking my child who was sick and sleeping beside me.

Understanding the challenges & opportunities

Some further reading…

In May 2022, the DIAC Neurodiversity Initiative was featured in a CIM Magazine article called ‘The untapped talent pool’ written by Rosalind Stefanac.

This expands on some of the recruitment methodologies that Johnson mentioned in her presentation. It also includes details on EY’s Neurodiversity Centres of Excellence in the US, and the impacts that this model has had on the company’s retention and productivity.

Although not mining specific, Deloitte Insights also released an article earlier this year on creating a better work environment for all. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ includes lots of practical advice that could be useful to organisations in the mining space.

It suggests potential changes to recruiting strategies, leadership styles, and cultural considerations that could not only help accommodate neurodivergent workers, but also better support other diverse colleagues and their neurotypical counterparts.

This guest blog, ‘Celebrating the joy of neurodiversity’, on TeamTeach by Senior trainer, SEND leader and consultant, Mica Coleman-Jones, published in support of World Autism Acceptance Week 2022, is another good read.

This one is geared around education. However, the examples used helped me to better understand some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding neurodiversity, and these insights are of course applicable in mining too.

From education to action

Excitingly, the CIM DIAC initiative has also translated into action in mining.

Stubina and his colleagues at Sherritt Technologies have arranged for the organisation to pilot a new hiring and integration protocol that is designed to help neurodivergent individuals enter and succeed within the company.

“This will provide guidelines and a support structure for hiring neurodivergent candidates,” Harambasic tells me.

“It will also indicate what kind of benefits the organisation could achieve and the cultural shifts needed to achieve those benefits. Some other industries have gone through this process, and we hope that mining will as well.”

Johnson adds, “as always, this initiative is not just about hiring, but about creating a workplace culture that supports the existing staff who may have, up until now, been hesitant to come forward with their disability.

“When we create an accepting and inclusive culture that embraces all types of people and minds, we allow employees to show up fully. This increases employee well-being and mental health, as well as retention and loyalty.

“A happy employee who feels a sense of belonging is a productive, long-term employee.”

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