If there was ever a sign that we’re living in changing times, then this one is it!

It’s a beautiful story of how one physical sign became a metaphorical sign for challenging the status quo, speaking up, and making a difference.

It’s a sign that started with one small message for the mining industry and ended up as a global message for us all.

And it’s a sign that as a whole, we’re on the right track towards inclusion and diversity.

Let me share a little story with you.

It was June 2018 on a mine site in Central Queensland, where all work was being carried out, business as usual. The contractors on site had been working there for years, and all were inducted and complying with the necessary SHMS. Lawfully, they had done no wrong. But there was one thing niggling at an employee, who decided if he didn’t say something, then no one would.

It was a sign that had been erected for safety, cautioning visitors to be mindful of contractors working. Except that’s not what the sign said. It said “Caution: Men Working”.

And now we’re up to where the story really begins.

Although a story in and of itself, the story really begins with the sign acting as a catalyst for what happened next.

Being the voice

The employee could have let it go just as everyone else who had passed the sign had done leading up to this moment. After all, it wasn’t physically doing any damage to anyone. But leaving it there meant, to the employee, leaving it for months and years to come with the same message booming at all who passed it by.

“Men working”.

With courage and confidence to speak up and challenge a sign that has been used for years, the employee expressed his concern to management over the sign. It may seem a small thing to change, but language is universal, and its message is powerful. So, for a male-dominant industry striving to showcase diversity and inclusion toward its recruitment and succession planning strategy, it’s a major setback if messaging on site doesn’t even include women.

In a real show of the changing times we’re living in, the mine management agreed with this sentiment and was quick to approach the contractor and have it removed. The physical sign was a sign of times gone by. The metaphorical sign is one very much in the present, and demonstrates how we all have the power to influence and make change with our voice.

Moral of the story

All good stories have a happy ending and highlights a message to takeaway. For me, this is evidence that we can all make an impact on the future, right now. We don’t have to just accept things because they’ve always been done that way, and we don’t have to rely on, or leave responsibility to our managers, supervisors or ‘someone else’.

Wherever you work, shop or visit, I urge you to start taking a closer note of your surroundings and find the confidence to speak up when you see or feel something isn't right, because this is a story not of a mine site contractor, but of an individual who spoke up. We’re all individuals with the same power as our story’s hero and there’s so many opportunities for us to make a difference every day, wherever we are.

This sign was the catalyst for change, and I hope, a sign of things to come.

March 02, 2020 — Claire Aitchison

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