Give new mums ‘challenging’ work: BHP’s Diane Jurgens

New mothers should be given challenging roles when returning to work, according to BHP Billiton’s technology boss Diane Jurgens.

Speaking in Melbourne on Wednesday, Ms Jurgens said many employers made the mistake of thinking new mothers could only manage “easy” jobs when they return from maternity leave.

“One of the things we do for females who are returning to the workforce, which is a big mistake, is we give them easy jobs. So come back part time, or come back into a role that is less challenging,” she said.

“I don’t know about you, but when I had kids, you come to work and now you have a reason not to be there.

“The kids are at home and if your job is not compelling, you will sit all day for eight hours missing your children, so I think as leaders we need to be careful that we don’t assume women can do less because they were off for six weeks as in my case…and challenge people to get back in the workforce and continue their careers and be flexible about what that means to them.”

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An engineer by training, Ms Jurgens has previously worked for General Motors and Boeing in the US.

Ms Jurgens said women in leadership roles also needed to have the confidence to believe they had secured their job on merit, and not simply because their employer was trying to meet a gender target.

“When [BHP chief executive] Andrew Mackenzie appointed me chief technology officer, he is not going to risk his career to make an appointment in a key role where I am not going to be successful, so I think we have to understand that targets are good, but as women we also have to have the confidence in our own capability that we are getting these jobs and just run with it,” she said.

BASF Australia chairman David Hawkins agreed that women did not get promotions unless they deserved them.

“We don’t put people into roles, in any role, that we don’t think is the best person,” he said.

“Sometimes I feel like a bigger believer in women than they are.”

BHP wants 50 per cent of its workforce to be female by 2025. Other companies like Ernst & Young have stated a desire to have women making up 30 per cent of their biggest earners by 2020.

Women made up 17 per cent of the miner’s workforce when the target was launched in 2016, and that had risen to 20.5 per cent by June 30, 2017 according to the company’s annual report.

Three of the ten members of BHP’s board of directors are female.

Women account for 30 per cent of directors across Australia’s biggest 100 companies, according to a report published earlier this year by the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

AICD chairman Elizabeth Proust said earlier this year that businesses had to go beyond “caucasian women over 50” when looking for female directors.

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