Great Boulder Resources: on the right path through guidance and building bridges

This article is a sponsored feature from Mining.com.au partner Great Boulder Resources Ltd. It is not financial advice. Talk to a registered financial expert before making investment decisions.

Carving your own path gets you to greatness quicker than following someone else’s trail.

Great Boulder Resources (ASX:GBR) has been on the road towards equality and gender balance for many years. Not to simply fit the mould and adhere to evolving social conventions. But from a long-held and firm belief that building relationships and recruiting only the best and smartest available would ultimately manifest into success.

While ESG has become a somewhat ‘buzzword’ over the years, it appears that when it comes to equality, gender balance, and inclusivity the broader mining sector has kept its head in the sand.

Managing Director Andrew Paterson says Great Boulder has been tackling these issues head on – starting from the boardroom down.

And although it does not have a tangible, specific program or quota guiding this strategy, the company’s philosophy is an open-minded approach.

He says Chairman Greg Hall has been championing female leaders in the industry for decades with the industry stalwart setting the standard.

This is ‘very important’ as it means female employees all know they have support from the top down.

The MD explains Great Boulder has taken a deliberate approach towards diversity in the boardroom by recruiting a non-geologist in Karen O’Neill. With her commercial and analytical skills, Paterson says O’Neill brings a new skill set to a group predominantly made up of geologists.

“Great Boulder’s strategy is always simply to hire the best and smartest people available for the job”

“I’ve never had a cookie-cutter approach to recruitment. We always strive to select people who fit within the team culture but we don’t expect everyone to agree with each other all the time. On the contrary, a degree of healthy debate results in better decision making.

The same attitude exists in the boardroom – I rely on the non-exec directors to challenge me if they think I’m heading in the wrong direction, and they do. From a business perspective, diversity at all levels is a no-brainer. Developing a ‘purple circle’ culture where only sycophants are close to the MD is not healthy in the long-term.

Great Boulder’s strategy is always simply to hire the best and smartest people available for the job. Admittedly this is easier to achieve in the exploration sector, as we’re mainly employing geologists and there are a lot of smart female geos out there who are happy to come to a company where they can make a real difference.”

Picture worth a thousand words

The main photograph of graduate geologist Lauren Bamber mapping out in the field may depict a lonely figure on a desolate road. However, the image is reflective of Great Boulder’s vision of inclusivity and the pathway it’s taking to (almost) parity.

It’s one thing to talk the talk, however Great Boulder is proving to walk the walk.

Paterson divulged to Mining.com.au that 5 years ago it had just a single woman at the board level (Mel Leighton) with 2 male non-executive directors, a male managing director, and a male company secretary. Today, the company has 3 women at this level, of which 2 are non-executive directors and one a company secretary.

The company’s male-to-female ratio has grown to an impressive 60:40.

Also back in 2018, Great Boulder had 2 non-executives and 2 employees (MD plus one geologist) of whom one was female. Today, it has 16 in the group including 2 female senior geologists, 2 female geologists, and one as administration coordinator.

Paterson says: “So, it’s a very different group due to the growth in numbers with an overall 50:50 balance.”

According to Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women comprise 47.9% of all employed persons in Australia. Yet they hold just 17.6% of chair positions, 31.2% of directorships, and represent just 19.4% of CEOs.

Balance by building bridges

The MD explains that since taking the helm he’s spent a lot of time on establishing relationships not only with his own employees, but others the company trusts, particularly on the corporate advisory and finance side.

“I can’t emphasise enough how important this is, particularly for listed micro-cap companies who rely on shareholders to raise capital.

There are a lot of sharks in that end of the pool, and if you get involved with them it can be very hard for the company to succeed. 

This also works on the project side of things, for example doing deals to bring in good projects is a lot easier if you have a reputation for treating people fairly.

Scott Wilson is our JV partner at Side Well; I’ve known Scott for several years and I think he’s a happy GBR shareholder and a strong supporter. Relationships like that are really important, and if the project is a winner both Scott and GBR will benefit from that success.

None of this is rocket science, it’s just the fundamentals of how we do business!

My philosophy for Great Boulder is pretty simple: be truthful; treat everyone with respect; surround yourself with people you trust; and be brave. For us being brave means testing our theories with a lot of drilling, and now it’s really paying off. I’m really proud of what the team has achieved.”

League of its own

For the most part, Great Boulder has trusted its approach to carving its own path on the road to equality, gender balance, and inclusivity and has done so under the radar.

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday (8 March), Paterson notes there was no better time to talk about these successes on this end, particularly amid reports the mining sector still has its shortcomings.

A 2022 industry report found that women in mining still face bullying, discrimination, and a lack of career progression opportunities. Paterson says he is hopeful there will be generational change soon as younger people move into management and corporate roles.

“From my perspective we need men in executive roles to be leaders in promoting and celebrating female leaders”

The MD adds: “In the meantime, middle-aged white blokes like me need to step up and be counted. From my perspective we need men in executive roles to be leaders in promoting and celebrating female leaders. Quotas aren’t an easy answer, and female leaders don’t want to be judged as being chosen due to a quota rather than their skills and experience.

Until that broader change in attitudes becomes the norm there will always be scope for discrimination in some corners of the industry. It’s definitely improving, but I’m sure there’s a long way to go.”

Paterson notes that in Australia there are a lot more women in the mining industry now from blue-collar operators through to technical roles and into management. In recent years a lot of companies were bringing on female directors – including Great Boulder – but female CEOs “are still few and far between”.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over the past 20 years the number of women employed full-time in mining nationally skyrocketed by 417.25%, growing from just 8,700 in August 2002 to 45,000 in August 2022. Despite this growth, Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency says that women comprise just 16% of the mining workforce in the country.

Cultural barriers

Paterson says the ABS data clearly shows that women have been finding their way into mining in droves, however there are still hurdles they must overcome whether it’s seen or felt.

“I don’t think there are structural barriers to women entering the industry in any capacity but there are clearly cultural barriers, whether real or perceived, that discourage women from getting into mining. Schools are working hard to increase female participation in STEM subjects, so the challenge for the industry is to try and capitalise on that and get those students thinking about a career in mining. That’s a far broader conversation – how to make mining an attractive career for the next generation.”

“I don’t think there are structural barriers to women entering the industry in any capacity but there are clearly cultural barriers, whether real or perceived…”

He adds that despite these shortcomings, mining in Australia remains a great and opportunistic sector for women to work, thrive, and emerge as leaders in. Mining basically boils down to groups of smart people figuring out practical ways to do things as efficiently as possible, whether it is finding gold in wide-open spaces or extracting ore from 1,000m below surface, he says.

“It’s an industry built on facts, science and engineering overlaid with the entrepreneurial challenges of running a business. For me one of the best aspects is that your value in the workforce is based upon how well you can do your job, without worrying about politics or bullshit. 

I think for anyone who’s prepared to work hard there’s an opportunity to really make a difference, which is not something you can say about all industries. This probably applies more readily to the junior end of town, but that’s not to say you won’t end up running BHP (ASX:BHP) if you live long enough.”

Gold standard

Aside from Great Boulder’s approach to gender balance and diversity, the company has been making plenty of other strategic moves designed to ready it for success.

On 8 March the company reported it returned 2 ‘very high-grade’ coarse visible gold intersections in a reverse circulation (RC) drillhole completed at the Mulga Bill prospect, located within the Side Well Gold Project in Western Australia.

The company says hole 23MBRC006A intersected 1.0m @ 3,451g/t Au from 114m, and 1.0m @ 2,379g/t Au from 158m.

The MD notes it was the 275th RC hole drilled at Side Well and the first time the company had seen anything like this style of coarse visible gold. Of particular note, it found some chunks of gold over 10mm across.

“In my career it’s only the second time I’ve been involved in an intersection like this, and then we hit 2 of these zones in the same hole.

It actually makes resource estimation difficult because we have broad envelopes of lower-grade material which are very consistent, and within those we get these smaller bonanza zones of more than an ounce (31g) per tonne. We’ve found a lot of these small zones, and the challenge now is to drill infill holes around those to work out the size and tonnage of each one.

It’s a very exciting deposit because there’s a lot of gold value in these bonanza zones, and it’s a thrill for the team each time we find a new one. I don’t expect to see 4-digit assay results too often though; those are really the icing on the cake.

There’s an old expression ‘the more you drill, the luckier you get’, and GBR is doubly blessed by having a project that’s rewarding us for doing a lot of drilling quickly.

That enabled us to realise the size of the opportunity quite early, and then piece together the geometry for an initial mineral resource within 2 years. I think we have a clear path towards a million resource ounces and I’m really looking forward to celebrating that milestone.”

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: Great Boulder Resources Ltd
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.