Achieving gender equality in male dominated industries is not just about ensuring women are equally represented across the organization, it is also making sure women have an equal voice. “Just something as simple as stopping to listen is the kind of thing that male dominated mining companies don’t always do. A clear way to solve this is to get men in the organization to think differently, listen more and engage diverse thinking,” says Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of the diamond producer De Beers.

Cleaver is tackling this issue with a reciprocal mentoring program whereby women at all levels of the organization are given the opportunity to share their views with male leaders. “You don’t want people to be different to what they are. This is about people feeling comfortable with who they are, wherever they come from and making sure they are comfortable to speak up,” he says. 

De Beers has committed to achieving gender parity in senior appointments across the business by 2020 and Cleaver says this starts with listening to women and understanding the unique challenges they face. “When I took on the role of CEO for De Beers, we took a serious look at our gender profile and the speed at which the profile was changing. I was shocked to find that at the rate we are going we won’t reach gender equality in De Beers for another 40 or 50 years. For me that was an ah-ha moment. I realized that we need to do something differently to achieve gender equality.”

Now, Cleaver is being recognized for his efforts to advance women in the workplace. In May, he will receive the Diamonds Do Good Women’s Professional Advancement Award from the non-profit organization the Diamond Empowerment Fund. Here Cleaver shares five lessons he has learnt in making sure women have an equal voice at the table.

  • Start from the bottom up

I am a big believer in doing things bottom up. So, we went out and spoke to groups of women and men in the organization. We asked them what was making life easy and difficult. The answers we got, we didn’t always like. A lot of the women said it was difficult for them to speak up. I attributed that to the teams not being diverse. Women don’t always feel comfortable in the team because sometimes they are the only women in the team. This makes it hard for them to speak up.

  • Link it to something tangible

I tried to link this to something tangible in the business. And safety for me is the single most important thing in this organization. I link diversity to safety because if you are working in an organization where – for gender or cultural reasons – you don’t feel safe speaking out then how are you going to get your organization to be 100 percent safe? You will never get there unless people feel safe to speak up! So, this was a powerful way to explain to people why we need to change.

  • Stop, take five and listen

These mining companies are male dominated, and they can be quite macho in remote mining places. We started a whole series of programs, to get women to feel more confident to speak up. One of the things we do is a reciprocal mentoring program, where men and women meet with other women (who are not as senior as them). It is a powerful way to get senior men in the organization to stop and listen to what women have to say.

  • Practice what you preach

One of the things that is difficult as a CEO of a business is that you are always busy and under pressure or running up against a deadline. It is not always easy in these roles to stop and listen to people. It is very easy to be dismissive and move onto the next challenge. I have tried hard to stop and listen to people. Because if you are doing this to a woman it will not encourage her to speak up. I think it is important to take a little bit more time in your day to stop and listen. I have two women in the organization who reciprocally mentor me and I have really found that very useful. Because I don’t think I have ever spent enough time with women to truly understand what their issues are.

  • Support women who speak up

There is no reason for women to feel that anyone in the organization is better than them. The way men operate is that they often open their mouths without all the answers. They push their way into an answer. The way women operate (as a generalization) is they try to be clear they have thought everything through. This doesn’t mean that men are smarter than women. It just means men open their mouths a bit quicker. So, women just need to be a bit more confident that they are right and people will listen to them. Their voices will be heard.