Cognitive Diversity #2: The Current State of Cognitive Diversity in Mining

Mining Industry leaders share their views


Wanting to further develop my industry knowledge and theoretical grounding into a working framework on cognitive diversity that can be applied within mining organisations all over the world, it was first necessary to take a deep dive into the current status quo and find out where current leaders within mining operations stand on the topic at hand. This would also help identify the areas of opportunity for strategic change.

I interviewed senior leaders from within the mining industry to get their take on cognitive diversity.  The senior leaders that were interviewed were very vocal in their belief that the implementation of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) was critical for the successful future of mining.  The sentiment was positive around the need to improve Equality and Diversity within senior management teams although that, even though there has been significant progress in the mining industry in recent decades, the mining industry is mainly only responsive to social movements, legislative changes and investor requirement changes regarding ESG and CSR etc as well as the criticality for mining companies to be able to gain and retain the social license to operate.  Mining companies need to be more proactive to forecast the future threats and opportunities regarding EDI and plan to make interventions.  The mining industry needs to take a leadership role and to do this, senior management teams need strategic change to meet the future needs of disruption within the mining industry.

During the interviews, it became apparent very quickly that some leaders had not heard the of the term “cognitive diversity” and many had not considered how to develop and manage cognitive diversity within their senior management teams.  However, once the concept, explored in the first article of this series “Cognitive Diversity #1: What Is It, and Why Do We Need It at The Very Top of Our Organisations“, was explained with the use of the diagram below, there was overwhelming support for the value that cognitive diversity within senior management teams could bring to the mining industry, especially in response to the disruptive strategic change that I have mentioned earlier.  Most agreed that this should be considered from the outset of the development of assets, since the approach to diversity and inclusion needs to be bespoke to the development, delivery, operating and ultimately rehabilitation environments for mining assets and needs to be agreed at the strategic level as early as possible in the asset development lifecycle.

Figure 1 Diversity characteristics adapted from Senichev 2013
 Mining Leaders Stress the Need for Cognitive Diversity

Whilst most of the senior leaders showed enthusiasm for the development and management of cognitive diversity within senior management teams, they generally thought that demographic diversity alone does not bring diversity of thought.  Leaders gave several examples of boards and executive teams that, although they had improved in terms of demographic diversity, the team members had been to the same schools, had the same socio-economic and often functional backgrounds and had worked in the same industries (mainly only in mining) and countries.  Within mining especially, there is even a tendency to only employ individuals who had worked with specific commodities.  Gold mining is especially insular, for instance.  

Some leaders mentioned that demographically different candidates were often recruited to roles with low organisational authority in an effort to “meet quotas”.  Effectively, senior management teams in mining were employing individuals like themselves; individuals with similar backgrounds, who solved existing problems in mining in the same way that they did themselves.  These teams were not proactively planning and developing for the future risks that face mining organisations and the mining industry. In doing so, leadership teams were missing out on garnering and leveraging an eclectic mix of educational backgrounds, personal habits and beliefs, management styles and previous experiences within companies, legislations, countries, divisions, functions and departments.

Effectively, senior team members are employing people who think the same way they do and come from the same backgrounds, even if they had been promoting demographic diversity (mainly in the form of race and gender).  Some senior leaders opined that the industry only attracted a certain “type” of individual who can endure the machismo culture and the remote environments; the aggressive leaders who develop a bullying culture and promote assertive, or even narcissistic, leadership styles.  Although the reality is sometimes different to the reputation that the industry has, it doesn’t take too many conversations with individuals in the industry to hear some horror stories involving racism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying. The recent Rio Tinto report that I referred to in Cognitive Diversity Article #1 demonstrates this harsh reality. These behavioural and cultural issues build significant barriers to entry for individuals of cognitive and demographic diversity; and they create what are often insurmountable challenges to retain this talent.  This was a difficult truth for some of the senior leaders to accept.

There was and is a lot of interest in the topic.  However, most of the leaders still recognise that the mining industry has a long way to go to try to achieve even the first step in EDI, i.e. social equality, and that this should take precedence on working on cognitive diversity in senior management teams. I don’t agree with this. I don’t believe that the journey to get to a more human approach in running organisations has to be linear. I think that the journey is iterative and requires us to make parallel inroads on equality, demographic diversity and cognitive diversity whilst creating more inclusive working and community environments within and alongside the mining industry.  I think that the reason why we haven’t made enough inroads into demographic diversity and inclusion within mining is a direct result of the lack of cognitive difference, different ideas and different ways and approaches to solving problems within current senior management teams in mining and that this is what needs to change.

Leaders in the mining industry that I talked to during this research believe that senior managers need frameworks, toolkits, exemplars and approaches to be able to develop EDI within organisations.  I believe that there are some components of these that are currently available; although there is nowhere near a one-stop shop. This is why Strategist Solutions, an Advisory Company led by me, is currently working with industry partners to develop some toolkits, frameworks and exemplars to help senior leaders in mining to develop and manage cognitive diversity within senior management teams.

Strategist Solutions1
Figure 2 Characteristics that are required for peak team value
What we found:

There was alignment between the available literature and senior leaders within the mining industry.  The focus of improving EDI in the industry appears to be on equality and demographic diversity, predominantly regarding gender, although also to a lesser extent, race.  Age diversity seems to only be addressed when discussing the mining industry’s requirement to adapt to disruptive technology changes.  There was some limited discussion on ethnicity in the context of relationships between mining companies and indigenous communities, particularly in North America and Australia.  Diversity of physical ability or sexual orientation is not widely addressed in the mining industry and companies don’t seem to be measuring diversity in these areas. There is not much awareness of the concept of cognitive diversity or the value that it can bring to senior management teams.

Senior leaders agreed with literature that in its present form, the mining culture does not allow for demographic diversity in the workplace because of many factors, including the remoteness of many operations, thought to discourage women and some minorities from working in the industry, and its reputation as a macho, aggressive, difficult industry to work in.  Mining discourages cognitive diversity within senior management teams due to persistent (although improving in some areas) issues with low levels of psychological safety and poor relatedness for individuals who think differently and approach problems differently than the historical status quo.  Development of demographic diversity in senior management roles, such as in executive management teams and boards, is not happening quickly enough, and there is doubt that it brings sufficient cognitive diversity to the sector.  

A large percentage of organisations measure aspects of cognitive diversity within senior management teams, mainly during the recruitment stage through review of resumes and applicant’s online presence, 360º referencing, psychometric testing and interviewing.  However, leaders believe this was often used for confirmation bias-based decision-making, i.e. leaders were actually using this information to employ individuals who thought like themselves rather than establishing cognitive diversity in teams.  Few organisations use measurement of cognitive diversity to help senior leaders develop and manage their teams to deliver greater value. Senior leaders expressed an appetite to know more about the subject and for toolkits, frameworks and exemplars to help promote cognitive diversity within the mining industry.

Organisational constructs are perceived as traditional, hierarchical, inflexible, and typified by a steep barrier to entry for individuals from outside the sector.  The significance placed on STEM disciplines was thought by leaders in mining to exclude individuals with other functional areas of experience and expertise.

Employee recruitment and retention and supply chain engagement were identified by interviewees as pivotal areas to address regarding diversity and inclusion in the mining industry.  Most senior leaders feel there is a systemic lack of process and cultural issues present within the industry and this is a major contributing factor in why many individuals in the mining sector with adverse diversity characteristics from the mining “norm” often feel excluded and disengaged; resulting in large numbers of these individuals moving away to other sectors.  There is still a perception that senior leaders in the mining industry are “…pale, male and stale”, and although there has been some progress to change the demographic balance within the industry, the industry needs to attract more cognitive diversity from outside of mining.

The cultural requirements for teams and organisations to leverage cognitive diversity are not being actively measured or managed.  The industry is only reactive to the increased stakeholder and shareholder pressure through CSR and ESG requirements, increasing legislation in most jurisdictions and increasing difficulty in obtaining and retaining the social license to operate as well as social equality movements, such as Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement.  There doesn’t appear to be a consistent way to measure, baseline and compare cognitive diversity across the industry or with other industries.

Senior leaders generally agreed with the findings from academic articles and thought pieces; that improving cognitive diversity would improve decision-making within senior management teams and allow organisations to have more resilience to potential large-scale strategic changes to the industry caused by disruptive events such as technology changes, social change, or global pandemics.

End users of the value chain for, or beneficiaries from, extraction of commodities – whether the consumer of products, users of the built environment or the mining asset host nations wishing to benefit from investment and revenue – want to have increasing influence on sustainability aspects of mining.  Host nations want more of the value chain to be in country, as well as an investment in skills training, and social and economic improvements in the way that mining companies deliver within the operational environments.  End users want more visibility over how commodity extraction is performed and the sustainability aspects of this as well as ensuring value for money for consumer goods.  

Junior and mid-tier mining companies in particular, and supply chain service providers, must take longer-term, risk-based strategic views on investments and operations.  The emerging key risks to the mining industry around sustainability, social change, and technological disruption require senior mining leaders to align corporate strategies over a time horizon that is much longer than they are currently contemplating.  Current senior management teams often do not have experience in dealing with longer strategic time horizons and this means that new ways of thinking and backgrounds are required for organisations to be successful in the medium to long term.

Some leaders from North America reported that quotas for demographic diversity and contractually binding agreements with demographic groups within society are helping, and leaders generally believe that increasing demographic diversity will increase cognitive diversity, and vice versa, and bring benefits to the sector. Leaders agreed that the current focus is on equality and demographic diversity in organisations, and although some organisations are starting to consider including cognitive diversity into leading and lagging KPIs for leaders and teams; most leaders acknowledged that this is still at the infancy stage within the sector. 

Senior leaders in the mining industry need more access to verified research on the topic.  Most currently rely on information available on the internet, such as online industry journals and thought pieces produced by consultancies. Senior leaders need to acknowledge that there are not the right organisational constructs or emphasis on psychological safety and relatedness for inclusive demographic or cognitive diversity to be successfully achieved within the mining sector.  

Although interviewees mentioned some tools for assessing personality traits, such as MBTI and EQI, a full toolkit to measure, develop, manage, and leverage diversity characteristics in senior management teams doesn’t exist.  Leaders are not provided with adequate support to develop and manage diversity in their teams to deliver required outcomes.  There is an opportunity for teams and organisations to deliver better outcomes through improved innovation and performance if support was made available to leaders. 

The mining industry, like many others, is driven by KPIs.  KPIs regarding cognitive and demographic diversity could be developed, although most senior leaders thought that introducing this to short term incentive plan calculations would be problematic and counterproductive.  Creating appropriate KPIs and measuring the industry by these would require significant organisational cultural change.

Measuring and managing innovation is an ongoing challenge for organisations and the industry and, although the link between innovation and cognitive diversity was recognised by most senior leaders, this was mainly through intuition and qualitative assessment rather than availability of any empirical evidence.  Innovation aspirations of organisations within the mining industry need to be seen by the mining industry as a potential driver for the development of cognitive diversity if the link could be established, measured and managed.

Although the overall awareness among interviewees of cognitive diversity is relatively low, there was enthusiasm around the concept.  Some senior leaders that we spoke with had deep, technical knowledge, and passion around diversity and inclusion; the discussions identified many opportunities for further research and some potential quick wins.  Senior leaders are optimistic about the potential for broader cognitive diversity within senior management teams in the mining industry and believe that there is considerable value to be unlocked if this is achieved.

Moving Forward – Implementing Cognitive Diversity

 A proposed approach to future organisational change management regarding diversity in mining is depicted in the figure below.

Figure 3 Proposed approach to ongoing, planned and measured cultural change to develop and manage cognitive diversity
Proposed approach to proactively managing diversity within the mining industry

Awareness in the industry of cognitive diversity is low, and it is crucial to raise the awareness of the benefits that cognitive diversity could bring to teams and organisations.  Senior leader opinions corroborated with literature review findings that there is lack of support mechanisms to be able to measure, manage and leverage cognitive diversity during recruitment and retention.  Senior leaders overwhelmingly supported the development and management of cognitive diversity and inclusion, and agreed that strategic change in this area is seen by leaders in mining as pivotal for the industry to be successful in the future.  

I recommend that the mining industry looks inwards, to identify good practice, and outwards, at what other industries have achieved, to find opportunities to emulate successes and learn from failures.  Leaders require the development of appropriate and effective toolkits to be able to measure, develop, manage, and leverage cognitive diversity within their teams and organisations and across the sector, since cognitive diversity has been found to improve innovation and organisational performance to improve investment outcomes. Strategist Solutions is working with industry partners to develop these important initiatives.

If you would like to keep abreast with the latest developments by Strategist Solutions as we continue to make strides into organisational culture within the mining industry and seek to establish a framework a methodology for doing this, then get in touch with us or sign up to our newsletter now!

Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date!


Rio Tinto (2022) Report into Workplace Culture at Rio Tinto. Available at: (Accessed: February 10, 2022).

Senichev, V. (2013) “Organizační týmy: Propojení týmové diverzity, výkonnosti a spokojenosti.,” Organizational Teams: Linking Team Diversity, Performance and Satisfaction., 7(17), pp. 139–148.


7 Critical Strategic Components for Investment Execution Success
Subscribe to get 15% discount

Nullam quis risus eget urna mollis ornare vel eu leo. Aenean lacinia bibendum nulla sed