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Gold Fields ‘deeply concerned’ after report reveals toxic workplace bullying, sexual harassment, racism

Gold Fields ‘deeply concerned’ after report reveals toxic workplace bullying, sexual harassment, racism
Mine workers return their equipment to charging racks after a shift at the Gold Fields Ltd. South Deep gold mine in Westonaria on 12 October 2022. (Photo: Michele Spatar i /Bloomberg via Getty Images)

JSE-listed Gold Fields said it was committed to stamping out the scourges of bullying, racism and sexual harassment after an independent workplace culture report revealed the scale of social toxicity at the company.

Following a trail blazed 18 months ago by global mining giant Rio Tinto, Gold Fields on Wednesday released an independent workplace culture report conducted by Elizabeth Broderick & Co. 

More than 4,000 employees were surveyed across the company’s global operations about their experiences over the past five years. 

Download the full report here

“The review revealed a number of deeply concerning findings. Overall, half of the participants in the survey reported having experienced bullying, sexual discrimination or racism in the past five years,” Gold Fields said. 

Specifically, the review found the following:

  • 47% of respondents reported experiencing bullying.
  • 23% of women and 7% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment.
  • 15% had experienced racism.
  • 29% of respondents who identify as LGBTIQ+ reported having experienced harassment, with many reluctant to openly acknowledge their status in the workplace.

In an interview with Daily Maverick, Gold Fields interim CEO Martin Preece said one such incident was in effect one too many. 

“In my view, if we had one single case, or 1% of any of these incidents, it’s not acceptable in our business,” Preece said. 

This toxic culture, based on the responses of employees surveyed, stretches from the underground shafts to the head office in Sandton. 

“Notably, bullying was the most common theme raised by participants from the Corporate Office in Johannesburg. Participants told the review team that the bullying behaviour there, including from members of the executive, was frequent and went unchecked,” the report says. 

Samples of comments made to the review team from employees at the Corporate Office include:

“I am so scared of making a mistake. I don’t sleep on Sunday nights because I dread going to work on Monday. I have sleep paralysis because of the stress. I don’t speak up because of the victimisation. The bullying kills – it kills your confidence. It kills your joy.”

“[This executive] is a bully and a misogynist. It’s an open secret. You can’t be innovative, collaborative, creative [in these conditions]. I can’t really be my authentic self at work. I have my game face on.” 

Or this comment from a woman at an undisclosed Gold Fields worksite:

“My boss introduced me to the team as ‘she likes making babies’ and always makes comments like ‘you are pregnant again’.” 

And this:

“There is the idea that women have used their bodies to get their positions. No matter how hard you work, men think you use your body to get promoted. They always talk about this.”

On the issue of racism at the workplace in South Africa, one black respondent offered this comment:

“If you are black, you get shouted at. If you are white, you get spoken to. Maybe they just don’t like black people.”

On the issue of LGBTIQ+ inclusion, the report noted that: 

“In South Africa, some participants noted that, while lesbians were more accepted in the workplace, it was a very difficult environment for gay men, particularly in operational roles underground. 

“In the Americas, leaders noted that there had been the opportunity to learn about and discuss LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace, leading some leaders to shift their own views and attitudes towards greater acceptance and inclusion.” 

It must be also noted that many respondents said they did not experience sexual harassment, homophobia or racism at Gold Fields. But, as Preece said, one incident is too many. 

Preece acknowledged there were “legacy issues” at play here – mining has long been regarded as a masculine domain and in South Africa, for decades, white supervisors and managers held sway over an overwhelmingly black and migrant labour force that was subjected to ruthless exploitation. 

But he pointed out that “this is a societal issue … it is not just a mining issue. We have such challenges in society and all businesses. We recognise the harm that it does to our people. And I think it not only paralyses our people, it paralyses our business.” 

Indeed, the report notes that such practices, aside from the terrible human toll extracted, are also not good for a company’s bottom line. 

“The cost of inaction on this front is significant. Sexual harassment, bullying and racism in the workplace cause significant harm to an individual’s physical and mental health, but harmful workplace behaviours also impose a significant financial cost on organisations,” it says. 

Preece said there were hard lessons learnt, but the company would emerge better for it.

“Out of discomfort comes growth, and so we would rather lean into this and have the courage to deal with this, and hopefully learn how to do things better and create an environment where people want to come and work and help us reach our full potential,” he told Daily Maverick

The review offers a list of recommendations for Gold Fields. These include the need for: 

  • Prevention and early intervention through workforce capacity-building (training and awareness-raising) and a robust policy framework.
  • A human rights focus, particularly with respect to workplace facilities.
  • Person-centred complaints mechanisms.
  • Ongoing monitoring, transparency and accountability.

The trail-blazing report also found disturbing levels of bullying, harassment and racism.

Read more here: Report on Rio Tinto finds ‘disturbing’ culture of sexual harassment, racism, bullying | Reuters

Both Gold Fields and Rio Tinto, appear not to be sweeping these issues under the carpet but are confronting them openly, including making the reports and their findings public. DM

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