The South African mining sector has improved significantly in terms of the representation of women, compared with the situation ten years ago, says mining industry organisation Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA).
While there is progress, more can be done to ensure the holistic inclusion of women in the mining industry. WiMSA chairperson Thabile Makgala tells Mining Weekly that South Africa is not unique in this regard, as other counties are dealing with similar challenges.
“We are seeing more women entering the industry at all levels and across all functions and, encouragingly, we are seeing more women in mining graduating classes. But, the industry needs to do more,” she adds.
Makgala cites mining industry employers’ organisation Minerals Council South Africa’s White Paper on the role of women in mining, which was published in March 2020. The paper provides greater focus on the need for and types of continued deliberate action regarding diversity in the industry.
Gender equity is an imperative when doing business in South Africa and the aim, according to the paper, is for the achievement of at least 30% women representation – from 12% in 2019 – at all levels by 2035. This, she underscores, should be supported by the industry at large.
Makgala states that this is a moral and business imperative.
Further, she explains that there are three aspects that have lacked impetus regarding women representation.
Firstly, there is an absence of a culture that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines among girls and women,and the opportunities in the mining industry are simply not conveyed to female learners.
Secondly, technology and innovation to facilitate the improved representation of women need to be leveraged, and new skills sets – not only for women but for all who work in the industry – need to be introduced.
Thirdly, Makgala notes that the culture adjustment regarding the acceptance of women at the coal face has been slow.
“One positive that may emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic is the accelerated modernisation of work, which will make careers in mining not only more accessible to women but also more fulfilling and productive for men and women,” she points out.
Further, the accelerated adoption and implementation of these technologies will make mining more accessible and attractive, as well as safer for women and men.
These technological changes, she says, will require a new skills set. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the next generation to participate fully in these technological developments and assist the industry in becoming innovative in its approach.
Consequently, WiMSA hosts a yearly career day, which is aimed at girls from grade 10 to grade 12, who are enrolled in STEM subjects.
The learners, Makgala points out, are mostly from previously disadvantaged schools in townships such as Soweto and Alexandra, in Gauteng; Phokeng, in the North West; and in the Emalahleni area, in Mpumalanga.
The day comprises presentations by women trailblazers in the mining industry, with topics ranging from careers in mining, to mines of the future and the various interpersonal skills needed to succeed in the industry.
WiMSA highlights that transformation of the industry entails more than simply achieving gender parity in the sector– it also requires leveraging the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the industry faces a major shift towards digitalisation and the adoption of other, newer technologies.
Aligned to the Minerals Council South Africa White Paper, WiMSA supports the promotion of gender diversity and inclusion at all levels, from top management to the lowest-skilled workers.
“We believe that mining needs to be an equal opportunity employer at all levels.”
Additionally, the organisation supports assisting women in attaining their full potential and to close the gender pay gap in terms of total remuneration and bonuses. It also supports the development of policies and programmes that advance and protect women – for example, policies on gender-based violence, sexual harassment and alternative placement during pregnancy.
Moreover, with WiMSA having supported and guided women in the South African mining industry for ten years, it will support the Minerals Council in the implementation of the White Paper initiatives.
The organisation will also continue to focus on the STEM field to inspire women to be confident and assertive from a young age so that “we can continue to transform and ensure that women thrive in the industry”.
She stresses that this will not be done at the expense of men in the industry, but alongside them.
“After all, women represent over 50% of our population – wouldn’t it be fitting for them to represent 50% of role-players in all aspects of life?”