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Thiess' Allies drives social change

Behind any initiative for social change, you’ll find people with great passion and purpose.

Within Thiess that person is James Cowin, the young mining engineer behind our first LGBTIQA+ pride network, Allies, the concept came from a very personal place.

Coming from a very accepting family in Sydney, James can recall the conversations he had with his mum who shared his concerns about him moving to a regional site-based role.

“I was worried about coming out to my work colleagues and concerned about whether this would impact my career due to bias and negative perceptions,” James said.

“Early in my career, I was only openly gay to a few people I was comfortable with.

“One day while working on-site in Central Queensland, a colleague of mine told me they were thinking of leaving the mining industry because they didn’t feel they would be accepted for being gay.

“I spent time listening and talking through what this person was experiencing and I knew this wasn’t just a career decision but also a big life decision for them.

“For whatever role I played, I’m proud to say that person is still working in the mining industry to this day and loving every minute of it.

“That’s where the idea of Allies first started – a network reinforcing that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and always feel safe to be themselves.”

Making it happen

With the endorsement of Thiess’ Executive Leadership team, James met with Jordana Sawtell, Senior Advisor in Thiess’ Community, Diversity and Inclusion team, to put his idea into motion.

Early discussions with industry colleagues identified that pride networks can struggle to maintain traction without two key elements – alignment to a broader business-wide diversity and inclusion strategy, and leadership endorsement.

“The first step was to create an Allies strategy that aligned to Thiess’ endorsed D&I strategy, which at its core celebrates individual differences and mutual respect,” Jordana explains.

“It was also critical for us to secure leadership buy-in and endorsement, presenting an opportunity to educate leaders from the start who then became Allies ambassadors.”

Launching with pride

The June 2019 launch of Allies, which coincided with Pride Month, was an overwhelming success.

A launch video including educational elements on the LGBTIQA+ acronym, leader reflections and personal experiences of employees, was shared with Thiess employees.

Pre-start PowerPoint packs were designed and presented at site-based events, and merchandise including polo shirts, rainbow lanyards and Allies pins were purchased across the workforce.

Employees taking the lead

Today Allies has 180 frontline and office-based employees from across Australia and Chile.

The popularity of the network has even seen site-based employees launch their own initiatives.

Most notably, earlier this year the team at Mt Arthur South painted four truck trays violet, symbolising spirit in the LGBTIQA+ rainbow, to raise awareness and to celebrate Thiess’ LGBTIQA+ community.

When asked what’s next for Allies, James said the network’s dedicated committee is planning a range of activities and resources maintain momentum.

“The Allies Committee is a diverse group of people and it’s really important to have employees leading this initiative,” he says.

“We also have goals and plans to grow our educational resources to help others learn more about the LGBTIQA+ community.”

Jordana believes the Allies network has had a positive impact outside of the workplace.

“With any diversity and inclusion initiative it’s critical we continue the conversation outside of the workplace,” she said.

“We encourage our Allies to take the conversation home, talk to their family, friends and their neighbours about it.

“This is about change in society more broadly. We each can play a part by educating and creating awareness which will ensure long-lasting change.”

The network is open to anyone who wants to support their colleagues and learn more about the LGBTIQA+ community.

Congratulations to Thiess’ Allies the recipient of the 2020 AMMA Diversity and Inclusion Award.

The award judges recognised the network for its success in creating awareness and understanding of diversity and inclusion, and for challenging bias, stereotypes and intolerance