A culture of bullying, racism, and sexual harassment is known to prevail, in varying degrees, at many workplaces. But, an external review of such incidents at Rio Tinto reveals the depth of the cultural malaise plaguing the London-headquartered Anglo-Australian mining giant.
The audit of Rio Tinto’s workplace culture, commissioned by the miner in March last year after a string of reports of misdemeanour and misconduct at far-flung mines in Western Australia surfaced, revealed that nearly half of the employees who responded to the review said they had been bullied, with racism being fairly prevalent.
The results of the review, released by Rio Tinto on February 1, highlighted 21 complaints of actual or attempted rape or sexual assault over the past five years, Reuters reported.
The findings were "disturbing" for Rio’s Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm, who pledged to implement all the recommendations from the report prepared by former Australian sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, according to the report.
"The eye opener for me was two-fold," Stausholm told Reuters. "I hadn't realised how much bullying exists in the company and secondly that it's quite systemic - the three issues of bullying, sexual harassment and racism ... that's extremely disturbing."
Separately, in a statement, he said he felt “shame” and “enormous regret” to read the report and know the extent of bullying, sexual harassment, and racism that’s happening at his organization.
The study spoke to more than 10,000 employees of Rio Tinto, which employs about 45,000 people in all. The report revealed that about a third, or 30%, of women, and about 7% of men workers have experienced sexual harassment at work.
Mining industry the world over remains male-dominated. Many would say that’s perhaps because of the risks involved and the nature of the job, which is arduous. It’s this gender imbalance that’s partly to blame for the incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the mining industry. This was also borne out by a 2020 Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry that found that nearly three-fourths of women in the mining industry had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past five years.
About four-fifths of the 45,000-strong workforce of Rio Tinto, which is the world’s second-largest miner after BHP, is male.
Yet, regardless of the industry, it’s really incumbent upon organisations and their leadership teams to create a safe and secure work environment for their employees to function with dignity. It’s only a culture of respect, openness, and transparency that can allow diversity at the workplace to thrive. Leaders need to pay more attention to create an inclusive work environment and boost diversity.