Women representation increases from ‘extreme minority’ to 13%-plus of SA’s mining workforce

4th August 2017 By: Mia Breytenbach - Creamer Media Deputy Editor: Features

Women representation increases from ‘extreme minority’ to 13%-plus of SA’s mining workforce

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The local mining industry has made significant strides in executing trans- formation and promoting gender diversity in terms of women representation, with the number of women having increased from an “extreme minority” to exceeding 10% across different levels.

According to the Chamber of Mines (CoM) 2017 fact sheet, it is estimated that about 57 800 women were employed in the industry from 2015 to 2016, compared with 11 400 in 2002. Women currently represent more than 13% of employees in the local mining industry, thereby exceeding the Mining Charter’s requirements.

Yet, much remains to be done to transform the traditionally male-dominated industry in terms of gender diversity and convert women’s roles from support functions to technical specialist fields and then to executive levels, says Vedanta Zinc International CEO Deshnee Naidoo, who tells Mining Weekly that the current implementation rate of gender diversity is too slow and totally unacceptable.

Further, “gender diversity transformation should never be good enough” until industry reaches the ideal of 50% women representation, she claims.

Naidoo stresses that the Vedanta group, as a whole, has very clear directives in place, with support and guidance from the highest levels – including the board and the chairperson.

“This imperative, which we at Vedanta Zinc International share, is to dramatically increase the number of women employed across Vedanta, getting us to a point where we can honestly say there is an equal split between men and women,” she says.

Naidoo explains that, although the diversity challenge for South Africa is more complex, the company pursues gender equality as a key priority, without ignoring other diversity needs.

“Especially important is the need to ensure women candidates are seriously considered for all vacancies – at all levels of the business. Wherever possible and operationally viable, the appointment of women candidates should be a priority,” she says.

Naidoo’s career in the mining industry spans more than 20 years, with her career having started as a chemical engineering graduate at mining major Anglo American Platinum in 1998.

In South Africa’s mining industry, there are women not only at entry level, in terms of operator positions, but also in technical specialist positions – from geologists to chemical, mechanical and metallurgical engineers, Naidoo highlights. This is reflected in university pipelines being strengthened for mining as a profession, she suggests, citing the University of the Witwatersrand as an example where women constitute 35% of the mining engineering class.

Gold producer Harmony Gold corporate and investor relations executive Marian van der Walt adds that CoM statistics indicate that the current intake of students at universities and technical colleges in the field of mining engineering is fairly balanced between males and females, and is likely to have a beneficial effect on the number of women entering the mining industry.

South Africa’s improvement in gender diversity – regarded by commentators to be greater than most mining industries worldwide – can be attributed to women empowerment initia- tives and programmes run by mining companies, recruitment and talent management policies, as well as educational programmes and incentives, such as bursaries, offered to women.

However, a key contributor to the improvement is mining legislation. Van der Walt says the improvement was largely the result of legislation that promotes nondiscrimination and the targets set in the Mining Charter, which has made a substantial difference to the employment opportunities available to women.

“This has been supported by moves globally for gender equality and increasing requests and/or demands for the reporting of gender- based information from the Global Reporting Initiatives, as well as the JSE in terms of its listing requirements.”

Despite considerable progress having been made in the technical professions, less progress has been made at board level, owing to the relatively small pool of women who have progressed through the ranks and are available or prepared to take up positions as nonexecutive directors, Van der Walt says.

She, however, believes that these women can be found in the industry and that companies need to try harder to find this talent.

International Women in Mining research and academia director Wendy Treasure suggests, meanwhile, that there is a much larger pool of capable women available.

Although there has been an increased focus on women serving on boards, she does not believe that there have been major strides in achieving greater numbers. “I do sense that women are increasing their profile in mining, but I’m not convinced about their major progression across the board. So much is incremental – and the pace is yawningly slow,” Treasure declares.

Naidoo also questions the industry’s lack of conversion, suggesting that this is an aspect requiring additional attention. She quips that, during discussions ten years ago, 10% of women across the board sounded like an impossible target – now, 10% is considered a “weak” delivery.

Research done by professional services firm PwC and published in 2015 in its ‘Mining for Talent’ report notes that, while the global mining industry “has fewer women on boards than any other major industry . . . South Africa is a leader when it comes to female representation at board level and in senior leadership roles”, Van der Walt avers.

Platinum-group metals miner Lonmin communications and branding group head Wendy Tlou highlights that, according to research conducted by PwC in the UK, 23.8% of South African women are board members of the Top 100 listed mining companies and 21.4% have positions on the boards of the Top 500 mining companies. “The same research shows there is a strong correlation between having women in these positions and scoring high on governance, financial, social and environmental metrics,” she says.

Wholly black-women-owned mining enterprise Yeabo Mining operations head Olebogeng Sentsho agrees, adding that the ‘2016 Gender Diversity Progress Report’, published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, details that female appointments to 200 international mining and mining services boards have tracked above 40% to date, the highest rate since monitoring began in 2009. “This solid performance . . . gives us hope that we may reach [the] 2018 target of 30%,” she enthuses.

Sentsho, who entered the mining industry in 2013, suggests that the influx of women qualified as mining finance specialists may very well “turn the tide”, pointing out that women who are entering their second and third decades of service in the industry are due for board appointment. “This will also improve the future of women on the boards of global mining companies,” she adds.

While women’s interest in occupying technical roles is perceived by some to be growing slowly, Van der Walt suggests that there is “more interest than before” from women in the pursuit of careers in the industry. Moreover, bursaries in the mining engineering sphere, which are more readily available, promote interest in the sector, she says.

Sentsho concurs, adding that, since bursa- ries are offered on condition that students complete their degrees and become a part of the technical workforce, a large contingent of female graduates are absorbed by the industry every year.

“Women are now officially the most qualified gender in the mining industry, with black women tipping the scales and being the most highly qualified demographic in the local mining industry,” she says.

Additionally, ongoing campaigns by various entities, including Women in Mining South Africa, the Department of Mineral Resources and several entities in the banking and direct foreign investment sector advocate the partici- pation of more women in mining by developing funding packages and products tailored for women. Subsequently, their representation in mining is increasing rapidly.

Naidoo suggests that the industry is well positioned to attract more women, but that a more inclusive approach is required by today’s mining companies. The industry’s increased focus on health, safety, the envi- ronment and stakeholder engagement will be more effective under the stewardship of women.

“These are areas where I know women will thrive, given their inherent strength in holistic thinking,” she asserts.

Another enabler – and to some, an impera- tive – is the support from other women who are progressing through the ranks, as well as top male leadership, in driving gender diversity. “This is not a problem that is solved by women alone,” Naidoo says.

Commentators speaking to Mining Weekly note that the change towards enhanced technologies and mechanisation is equally important – although occupations in the industry were previously more labour intensive, manual and risky, technology is making these occupations suitable for women as well.

The modernisation of the mining industry will also create more employment opportunities for women, according to these commentators.

“Increasing mechanisation, fine motor skills, dexterity and problem solving, rather than physical strength and stamina, will be of greater importance in determining employment,” Van der Walt says.

She adds that, with mechanisation implemented at Harmony’s Hidden Valley openpit gold and silver mine, in Papua New Guinea, more women have been employed.

Van der Walt, however, acknowledges that the arduous nature of underground work, especially in local deep-level gold and platinum mines, still preclude women from filling positions involving strenuous work.

However, Treasure argues that increased mechanisation and automation could affect women adversely – should mechanisation result in job cuts, as is often argued, men could be retained in favour of women because they are less constrained by childcare responsibilities.

Perpetual professional and personal challenges that hinder women’s participation and their progress in the mining industry include safety and security, with sexual harassment continuing, as well as daily gender-biased attitudes, Tlou acknowledges.

Van der Walt agrees, underscoring cultural challenges, such as a patriarchal culture that hampers authority acknowledgment for women in the industry. Incidents of abuse against women is still a reality and is unacceptable.

Additionally, “age-old” societal pressures include the integration of work and life by women in the mining industry, as they are regarded as the primary caregivers of the family. Mining is often in remote locations, deep underground and structured to specific schedules, making working hours difficult to manage when women are looking after families.

“There is no such thing as a work/life balance. There is work/life integration. I never switch off – I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter and a boss 24/7, seven days a week. [Therefore], when I’m at work, I’m on a work-heavy, family-light strategy, and when at home, I’m on a family-heavy, work-light strategy,” Naidoo says.

She emphasises the importance of fostering a partnership model, while Van der Walt also underscores external and in-house professional support, and also emphasises that women need to promote themselves better.

Linked to these pressures is the issue of mindset, with commentators noting that women are still not willing to take risks in “putting up their hands” because they believe they are not as ready or qualified for the positions as their male counterparts, who will “just jump in”.

“We have to start to incite women to say: ‘Why not?’ The . . . characteristic I look for in assessing whether a woman is ready for the next level is attitude. The skills and development will come if she is supported,” Naidoo argues.

An emerging challenge is the retention of skilled women. Tlou points out that, as mining remains a tough industry, skilled women seek opportunities elsewhere unless they feel empowered and recognised. Treasure, however, suggests that, if a company is progressive in its work approach, such as being key-performance-indicator-focused, there is “much more opportunity for women to find satisfaction in work and remain in the industry”.

Van der Walt also acknowledges that, while successful technical women specialists are a “scarce commodity”, all mining companies should focus on policies and strategies that will provide equal opportunities for women and, thereby, retain women in the mining industry.

Commentators agree that the outlook for women representation remains positive and brimming with opportunities, with a favourable environment to “inspire and attract” women to the industry and “challenge and change the status quo”.

As women who have progressed through the ranks and, subsequently, gained experience in the industry continue to grow in number, more will be eligible for appointment to the boards of mining companies, commentators suggest.

Additionally, the increasing commitment of gender diversity from mining companies, transparent policies in terms of inclusion and women’s progression through the ranks, and open-door policies, as well as the provision of a platform for women to air their views assertively, but nonaggressively, are key to changing the industry, according to those interviewed by Mining Weekly.

Women in Mining South Africa chair- person Lindi Nakedi nevertheless stresses that transformation and the inclusion of women in the industry have to start with the leadership of the organisation.

“Policies and legislation can be put in place, but that will not be true change, as a whole social paradigm shift is necessary. We see a need for leadership and skills development from the lowest of levels for women in mining to create a pipeline of women who can be groomed and sponsored to [take advantage of] opportunities in management and [fill] top leadership positions,” she says.

Naidoo believes that, if the industry is to make more of these commitments, it will become more transformative in the next three to five years.

“The most powerful thing we can do as a company is to not only have a commitment . . . but also to start demonstrating how serious and real that commitment is. This is neither lip service, a compliance issue, nor a tick-a-box issue. We are serious and we have started action,” she concludes.