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Women making inroads into male-dominated mining sector despite challenges

9th August 2013

By: Nomvelo Buthelezi

  

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The mining industry has historically been characterised by a gender imbalance in favour of men, but some progress has been made in the last few years.

Explaining the origin of this imbalance, Frost & Sullivan consultant for growth implementation solutions Nicole Hall says: “Traditionally, the industry has sourced its labour from a predominantly male, rural workforce. Prior to the 1990s, South African women were prohibited or otherwise constrained by legislation from being employed in mining activities underground,” she notes.

Women, therefore, would not get the chance to attain senior positions in the industry as they were not permitted entry underground.

According to a study, ‘Mining for Talent’, published in January and conducted by Women in Mining (Wim) UK and Price-waterhouseCoopers, the mining industry has the lowest number of women on company boards of any industry group in the world.

In addition, local mining companies are struggling to achieve the South African Mining Charter’s 10% quota for women. It is imperative that this quota is not seen as the end goal, but rather as a means to continue the empowerment and employment of women in mining.

“Mining trends indicate the move towards mechanisation, which presents an opportunity for women in the industry. In addition, the value chain of the industry includes various stages, from exploration and product handling to mineral beneficiation. Each of these stages provides opportunities for the participation of women,” says Hall.

Although there are challenges with respect to filling the quota for women in the mining industry, women are indeed making the necessary strides to succeed in the corporate environment of the mining industry.

The study shows that JSE-listed mining companies had the best percentage of women serving at board level.

“What women are doing for the mining industry is impressive, as it is an industry that has never catered for, nor really looked out for women. If you look at big mining companies, such as Anglo American, 22% of their workforce is female and that is a big number, if you consider where the industry came from – male domination,” says innovative diversified technology company 3M mining leader Terrance Visser.

“Women were used to occupying positions in human resources at mine sites and mining companies, and were rarely associated with work at the rock face. This has changed over the years. Now we are seeing mine sites with women in management positions,” he adds.

Deloitte Southern African mining leader Abrie Olivier says women are faring really well in this largely male-dominated industry. “The skills and competence levels of women have grown significantly in the last decade; there are a number of well-experienced senior executives in significant local and global mining organisations. This is testament to the evolution that the industry is going through in terms of gender equality.”

“There is an increase in the intake of women at tertiary education level and there are equal numbers of males and females in classrooms, and that is something to recognise – that there is progress and there are some fantastic senior women executives to use as examples in the industry,” says Olivier.

Women in mining are in an industry that has largely been developed by, and designed for, men. Women, therefore, find themselves in a challenging environment.

Women have been chasing the role of men because they feel, to progress, they need to be like their male counterparts, but that is not necessarily the case as, in any industry, it boils down to talent and skills, says CM Solutions process engineer Ayesha Osman

She also notes that, for the holistic success of women in the engineering and mining industries, it is important for women to help one another and assist with skills development.

“At CM Solutions, we realise that, for women to make an impact in the mining industry, equipping them with the necessary tools and aids through the development of skills is crucial. Female engineers and miners will need to have a good grasp on various concepts, while attaining certain skills to have the necessary abilities to tackle challenges and excel in their respective fields. Acquiring skills and developing talents will aid them in the selection of promotions and the achievement of success in senior-level positions in the industry,” adds Osman.

In an Insomnia Index survey, conducted by professional services advisory firm Deloitte, in association with Women in Mining South Africa in April 2013, three main challenges were identified as difficulties for women in mining – operating in a male-dominated culture, legislation and retaining the skills and talent shown by women.

The Insomnia Index highlights the male dominance that is prevalent in the industry. It states: “The mining industry in the past, as well as nowadays, is dominated by men, especially in the more senior executive roles. Although this is true, we encourage a focus on those women who are holding these executive positions and are paving the way for women moving up the ranks. This is still, however, not on the scale or at the rate at which the development of women in the workplace should be taking place.

“Women regard this male-dominated culture as a challenge to encourage and enforce change, as well as perceive it as a ‘glass ceiling’ to be reached, where career development is hindered by leadership. Companies need to actively seek out to empowering and developing women and grooming women to prepare them for entering more senior positions,” the index notes.

Further, it states that, although developments in legislation and technology have allowed for an increased number of women mineworkers, the level at which women are entering the industry is still not at the level where it should be.

South African legislation promotes the inclusion of women by requiring companies to actively change their demographic profile, ensuring that plans are put in place to achieve targets set by government. Currently, the mining industry still aspires to the Mining Charter baseline of 10% female representation and participation in technical disciplines. “This percentage is likely to increase to 20% by 2018,” says Hall.

Research conducted by the Chamber of Mines shows that women comprise 6.9% of the whole mining industry. “The represent-ation of women in the sector remains comparatively insignificant, compared with their counterparts, but a handful of women have already demonstrated commendable progress, with the numbers growing steadily,” states Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.

The Insomnia Index found that another challenge to enabling women to act as positive change agents in the mining industry is the retention of skilled and experienced females to develop and guide these women to higher leadership roles.

“If women are not empowered and recognised within their roles and industries, they will move on to roles in other industries, where they are valued and their careers will develop. Mining companies need to provide young female graduates just entering the mining industry the opportunities and experience needed to grow in their careers,” says Hall.

Hall says it is not the sole responsibility of mining companies or government to transform the industry to create greater opportunities in the mining industry.

This should rather stem from a collaborative approach between mining companies and communities, schools, universities and organi- sations dedicated to the advancement and inclusion of women in mining. These stakeholders are required to identify the factors that deter women from entering the industry and what each entity can do to overcome these.

The roles of stakeholders include informing women of the available positions in the industry, while providing opportunities for education, the development of an industry value proposition and the availability of various platforms for women to engage and address the challenges they face in the industry.

The Insomnia Index identified the top three opportunities as bursaries, expatriate opportunities and leadership skills.

Bursaries – specifically targeted at women in the mining sector – provide an opportunity for women to enter the sector and develop key specialised skills that will enable them to not only enter the industry but also be equipped to compete in this male-dominated environment.

Bursaries also help attract young talented women to an industry they often do not consider when they leave school and enter tertiary education.

Expatriate opportunities were typically regarded as a challenge for women in terms of travelling abroad and taking job positions in remote or obscure areas, owing to family responsibilities. Currently, it is regarded as a great opportunity for women to take on higher leadership roles outside their home countries.

Companies are increasingly seeking diverse leadership and, especially with regard to more opportunities arising in the developing markets across Africa, women are in a great position to take on these leadership roles.

Further, companies that have diverse leadership in terms of culture, race, education and gender have been known to outperform those that do not. Women provide that diversity through their differentiated leadership style. They are able to contribute many elements, in addition to the typical pure business and industry knowledge expected. Women are known to be more diplomatic, emotionally intelligent, balanced, nurturing and perse- verant. They also understand staff needs and are socially conscious.

“The increase in the number of women in influential positions in the industry balances things a lot better, says Olivier.

Says Deloitte director Gillian Hofmeyr: “The mining industry in South Africa is at a crossroads, [and this] presents an opportunity to embrace a more diverse leadership, especially from women.”

“There are different types of skills that women can contribute to the industry. Women are good at maintaining networks and relation- ships and if you look at how the mining industry has evolved, there is a lot more communication required and the building of networks with different stakeholders, such as government, communities, labour and unions,” she adds.

Hall notes that understanding the barriers and challenges faced by women is the first step. Mining companies require an integrated approach to women in mining. Attraction and retention, policies and procedures, as well as training, are some of the key focus areas.

“Achieving ‘women in mining’ targets successfully requires a comprehensive workforce plan, which is supported by the various processes and procedures related to the workforce. One such process is career and succession planning development. The focus is on high-level skilled positions and on the creation of a talent pool from which potential managerial and supervisory candidates will be chosen and developed accordingly,” says Hall.

Following this, the approach assumes that the recruitment pool has sufficient succession capability, which highlights the role that awareness campaigns, education programmes and universities can play in providing women who are skilled.

“This will, ultimately, affect the way in which the attraction and recruitment processes are developed to recruit women who have the potential for career advancement. The mining company could potentially initiate bursaries for university students and simultaneously create systems that allow for the identification of internal top performers and their fast-tracking of their skills and talents,” says Hall.

The valuable contribution of women to the mining industry far outweighs the ‘risks’ associated with the inclusion of women as employees in the operations.

“These contributions have been documented throughout the world, with a strong focus on increased productivity, especially in the automated and mechanised environment. In addition to this, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that women demonstrate a more effective supervisory style,” says Hall.

“Women have a different and unique way of problem-solving that encompasses a practical approach and a consideration of all parties involved,” believes Quarry Mine HR manager Susanna Brenert.

“All efforts should be made to increase the participation of women, thereby allowing them the opportunity for career growth and development in the mining industry,” concludes Hall.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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