Sarah Coleman has been on a two-year mission to replace “killers of innovation” with what she sees as elements vital to a new era of culture change in mining.
The CEO of mining technology firm, idoba, part of major Australian Securities Exchange-listed mining services company Perenti Global, told an estimated 1300 people at the 2022 Women in Mining and Resources Western Australia summit in Perth she saw three primary innovation killers in modern organisations and corporations.
“The first is … where the organisation’s value chain is broken into silos and most people exist within boxes and lines,” Coleman said. Competition for the boxes often got in the way of people “showing us their true selves”, or worse, a title defined a person’s worth, not their personal attributes.
Coleman said short-term corporate financial targets often stopped people from taking risks for a future benefit they might not see in their job tenure.
A third innovation headwind was culture, she said: “Culture and systems … that encourage innovation. [There is often] too much reliance on individuals and not enough on systems.”
Coleman has been recognised this year with a WA Business News Top 40 Under 40 award and Australia’s 2022 Women in Industry Award.
She said idoba was formed about two years ago with belief in the leadership group that it could “rethink, transform and disrupt the mining sector and beyond”.
“It’s critical for us to move into the next phase of mining, one of complexity, uncertainty, and a need for innovation,” she said.
“With the ESG revolution the sector is facing, we don’t have time to sit back and hope that by doing the same thing, the same way we’ve always been doing it, is somehow going to miraculously give us innovation.
“COVID 19 has been a massive paradigm shift that’s demonstrated that the old ways of doing things are no longer robust in times of rapid change.
“We need new, responsive and adaptive ways of working for both the organisation and the people in them.”
Coleman said idoba brought together five independent local companies, combining different technical disciplines, and created an “innovation ecosystem”.
The business already had about 160 employees; some 40% female, 15% neurodiverse or autistic, 16 to 73 years old, with 27 nationalities represented.
“We’re diverse in every sense of the word,” Coleman said. “Diversity is more than gender.
“It’s about diversity of thought.
“When I started this journey, I rather naively thought my learning and growth was going to be [focused] on creating digital and technology products and services to disrupt the sector.
“The biggest learning I’ve had is that the disruption starts with me and with ourselves.
“If we can’t disrupt our own ideas and ideological constructs, quite simply, I do not believe we will be able to innovate or achieve our purpose. For me, innovation needs diversity and for diversity to manifest, we need people to be able to show up as their true, messy, imperfect, unique selves.
“Inclusion, as many people have alluded to, goes beyond ticking a box.
“It’s not a cosmetic thing we all need to be seen to be doing.
“I want to put it out there that creating an inclusive workplace that is deeper than a tick-box is far from rainbows and butterflies. Sure, you can just recruit the right type of people with the right kind of diverse background, write a few policies, publicly talk about how great the numbers are, and hope like hell that everybody suddenly feels psychologically safe without you having to do any work as a leader.”
Accepting people as their “messy, imperfect selves” is key to inclusive leadership, Coleman says, and allowing people to flourish.
“We cannot control a lot of people’s actions and behaviours,” she said.
“It’s something I personally find hard to sometimes accept, as I would desperately like to rewrite the narrative in people’s heads that stop them from trusting themselves enough and the workplace enough to just be their amazing self without that corporate armour everyone has become so good at carrying.
“I know first-hand that this journey is hard – really hard.
“And while this is hard, we have to acknowledge that it’s always going to be hard. And it being hard is what’s going to get us the better outcome.”
Coleman said an ongoing challenge was harnessing the collective knowledge and experience of a diverse workforce to “co-create something transformative”.
“Leading a team of truly diverse individuals is incredibly rewarding, but it’s incredibly complex,” she said.
“I spend so much of my time managing the edges, helping create the space for people to show up and do amazing things.”
Leaders had to look beyond the performance of the business and focus on individual growth to get the most out of people, Coleman said.
“Thriving means people performing for the business as well as being able to grow as an individual.
“It’s no longer about people working for an organisation. We need organisations working for people.
“We do a lot of talking … but we talk to seek understanding, to understand the perspective each other brings, to make sure that we are all talking the same meaning and spending time making sure we’re all on the same page.
“We talk so we can find ways to experiment and play together before we can start co-creating and making things together, which allows our business and the individuals in it to grow.”
Coleman says disruption to the status quo starts with the CEO.
“Learn about yourself first and get out of your own way so that you can create the space for others to shine.
“You can’t ask others to bring their authentic self if you don’t know what your authentic self is.
“Know your biases, like really know them, and challenge them every day.”