While it is clear that women in mining are a minority, and that long-term thinking is needed to increase accessibility and development of women in the mining sector, companies such as United Mining Services (UMS) are leading the drive towards inclusivity.
Digby Glover, CEO of the UMS Group, says that diversity has been one of the Group’s long-standing values. The company’s two main arms, UMS Shaft Sinkers and UMS METS, have both been headed up by highly qualified, competent and experienced women for a number of years.
“This is unusual in the industry, but it shouldn’t be,” says Glover. “We use the right people in the right roles, who are appointed completely on merit. We source our employees from a diverse population of people, and as a result, our workforce is representative of that population.”
He acknowledges that the shaft sinking business has been viewed as stuck in an industry that’s seen very little evolution for decades in terms of how a business should operate, but the company’s language has been shifting. UMS as a whole has been embracing new ideas to do things differently for some time. “We have been at the forefront of change in the underground mining industry, and this puts us in a unique position in this sector,” says Glover.
“A large part of my role as the CEO of the UMS Group is to bring in the skills that will drive this change. I have brought in top-class people and they in turn have brought top-class people with them. We have started to assemble a team that punches far above our weight in terms of skills, know-how and experience required to do the work that we do, in order to accelerate our ability to do things better.
“It’s all about people, and I’m making sure that UMS has the best, both in terms of bringing the right people in, but also in terms of looking after them once they are there.”
Snapshot of women in mining at UMS
Takalani Randima joined UMS in 2018 and is the MD of UMS Shaft Sinkers. Takalani began her career in 2008 as a trainee engineer on a mine, only a few years after women were legally granted the right to work underground in South African mines, before moving through the ranks to her current position. Randima holds a Bachelor of Mining Engineering and a Master of Engineering in Project Management and is well equipped to manage the highly skilled UMS shaft sinking and underground mining team. Her mining engineering qualifications are matched by real knowledge and hands-on industry experience while confronting on-the-job challenges. She has already led three major, highly successful shaft sinks, as well as numerous shaft and underground infrastructure projects.
“At school I excelled in science, and while all my classmates wanted to study medicine, I wanted to do something different. I won a science prize sponsored by a mining house and this got me interested in engineering which led me to being awarded a bursary from that mining house,” says Takalani. “Although my family were surprised at my career choice to do mining engineering, I have never looked back. What I really love about the mining industry is working with all the people; the adrenalin rush of facing different challenges every day and the need to think out of the box during problem solving. I love what I do!”
In her role as Group HR & Payroll Manager at UMS, Esbé Miller focuses on establishing and managing strategic human relations/employee relations initiatives and has a direct operational responsibility regarding HR/ER.
“I grew up in Swartklip (Anglo Platinum Union Mine at the time), so I think mining was always in my DNA: approximately 80% miner and 20% Blue Bull,” says Esbé. “I’ve been very fortunate regarding the career exposure I have had thus far. After I graduated from university, I applied for the graduate programme through the Anglo Development Centre. I was placed at Union Mine as an HR graduate, where I was subsequently permanently appointed.
“I have been with the UMS Group for 15 years this July and it’s never a dull moment. Working at UMS has provided me with learning experiences across various disciplines, not just within the HR fraternity. It’s a fast-paced environment, where one gains experience in the local and international arena. One of the highlights of working at UMS is being part of a team that was able to implement new strategies to overcome some of the industry challenges and ultimately positioning the UMS group where it is today. Companies have all had trying times, some more than others, and we were no exception to experiencing turmoil. But sometimes, amid chaos, there is also opportunity. It takes continuous hard work and commitment from everyone, no illusions there, but it’s worth it in the end. Maybe mining is not for everyone, and that is okay, but I think I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Siphiwe Antonette Malepe recently joined UMS METS, having travelled a studious path to her current role as Junior Process Engineer. After completing a National Diploma in Engineering that included a year of in-service training at Modikwa Concentrator Plant, she decided to further her studies and completed a Bachelor of Technology in Chemical Engineering where she was given an opportunity to mentor 10 first-year Chemical Engineering students. At the time, she also published two academic articles and presented at the Planetary and Scientific Research centre. Further studies followed to obtain a Post Graduate Diploma in Project Management. Not quite done, Siphiwe expanded her career to pyrometallurgy and logistics at Samancor Ferrochrome during which time she completed her Engineer In Training Programme, before joining UMS METS where she is looking forward to learning plant commissioning.
“I chose to be an engineer because engineering gives me an opportunity to challenge myself and it gives me the space to think out of the box in the most creative and technical way,” says Siphiwe. “Engineering is the centrepiece between the world we live in and innovation. The need for engineers expands with the ever-increasing demand for innovative solutions to better the conditions of the world, as we are like the wizards of society.
“I wanted a career that will allow me the opportunity to work with people who are as driven and skilled as myself, and that's ultimately why I wanted to become an engineer.”
Nonjabulo Zikhali is a Commercial Contracts Specialist at UMS, responsible for a wide variety of procurement and contracting duties such as drafting contracts, recommending the most suitable contract for a project, contract negotiations, and ensuring contractual, insurance and bonding requirements are met prior to contract execution.
Nonjabulo explains that while she was doing vocational work during her studies in quantity surveying, she was presented the opportunity to join a division that specialised in the construction of mineral processing plants. “My first-hand experience was when I was part of the site team helping to achieve a project of constructing a gold processing plant project in Ghana. I have not looked back since then.” She adds that she hasn’t encountered challenges in her career as a woman. “I wanted to be a professional in the engineering field and I went and did it. It was after I had started working that I realised that there were not enough women in the industry. My mentors were male so there were instances where I had to alter myself to fit in but that is a thing of the past.”
She says the best part of her job is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a project, and being part of a team that developed something valuable out in the world that creates employment for others.
As a Junior Mechanical Engineer, Genevieve van Wyk assists with the preparation of annual budgets, designs, layouts, inspections and project installation, as well as helps plan, organise and control projects, and makes recommendations on alternative solutions to engineering problems. She got into mining when an opportunity to join UMS METS became available after she graduated.
“Two years ago, I was a graduate just starting to work and decided to join a company that was going through changes as business. Transitioning from a student to a working woman and navigating through a company that was changing was extremely challenging. Lucky for me, I enjoy a challenge,” says Genevieve.
“Since UMS has different divisions within the company, I have learnt about the different stages of mining from developing a mine, to mining, to processing ore. Having knowledge in the different stages of mining allows me to understand what happens downstream and upstream of a particular stage which allows for good engineering design.
“Over the past year, I have been involved in the design and procurement of various equipment for a shaft sinking project in Botswana. The highlight for me on this job is seeing an engineering design come to life through manufacturing. It is difficult to explain how exciting and eye opening that is.”