Although the mining industry, which has traditionally been a male-dominated environment, has become more inclusive, it seems as if change is taking its sweet time. Women are also facing discrimination, which is driving them away from this economic sector.

Women represent an estimated 8 to 17% of the global mining workforce, according to the global management consulting firm McKinsey, reporting in its piece “Women are leaving the mining industry and what mining companies can do about it”.

It notes: “In addition to low labour force participation, the drop-off from entry level to executive for females in mining is among the most dramatic across all industries we studied.

“Breaking down the sector in terms of senior leadership roles, we see that mining is a laggard among laggards: female representation within mining company C-suites sits at 13%.” It adds that among Standard and Poor’s 500 companies (a stock market index that tracks 500 publicly traded US companies), there are only 30 female CEOs – “not one of them comes from mining”.

Closer to home, women currently account for 12% of the workforce in the South African mining industry. However, the number of women employed locally in mining has increased significantly, jumping from 11 400 in 2002 to 56 691 in 2019.

Why does this matter? “Beyond the fundamental values of equality and equity, study after study has demonstrated the benefits of diversity on financial and operating performance,” says McKinsey. “In one data set, diverse teams were reported to be more productive (11% higher adherence to production schedule) and to have safer practices (67% lower total recordable injury frequency).

“Diversity promotes creativity and strategic resilience, and mining companies will need both if they are to successfully meet the broadening challenges facing the industry today, from digital and analytics disruption to sustainability and decarbonisation. The imperative to attract and harness the capabilities of a broad and diverse labour pool is clear and should encourage mining companies to recruit more women and invest in their success.

“To add to the value proposition, investors tend to favour companies that help them achieve environmental, social and governance goals, which encompass diversity within the company and in the broader community.”

Shining a spotlight on women in mining

KBC, which offers onboarding solutions in Southern Africa, as well as induction and other training solutions across the mining industry, hosted a Women in Mining webinar at the end of August (Women’s Month).

“KBC recognises that transformation cannot be achieved unless the current issues and challenges faced by women in the South African mining industry are highlighted and corrected,” commented KBC Health & Safety’s chief operating officer Sian Thurtell.

A panel discussion at the webinar was led by three highly influential women in the mining industry. These were Olebogeng Sentsho, CEO of Ayana Group; Fortune Naledi, MD of Dust A Side Coal and CEO and founder of GNF1 Engineering & Construction; and Vuyokazi Nontso, risk and compliance manager at Nkwe Platinum South Africa.

In a presentation entitled “What can we do to Attract and Retain Women in the Mining Industry?”, Naledi said: “We are still behind in acquiring the desired number of women in the industry. However, a lot has been done to make the mining industry conducive for women in terms of the environment, health and safety standards, and equipment and tools, which no longer requires hard manual labour.”

Nontso said that, post-1994, doors have opened for women in the mining industry. “Although we have welcomed that opportunity, the journey over the past 27 years has not been without challenges.” In her presentation, entitled “Challenges Facing Women in the Mining Industry in South Africa”, she observed that some of these “have been emotional, psychological and physical. Some are quite nebulous and hard to understand for people not in that situation, which results in the stereotype that women do not belong in that environment.”

However, Sentsho pointed out that women in mining have twice as many qualifications as their male counterparts, with 84% of women in mining more qualified than their bosses. “Women often sacrifice experience for education,” she noted.

And this presents another set of challenges, as the McKinsey report points out: “Interviews with leading women in mining highlight that women experience being sidelined, particularly in technical roles. There is a sense that opportunities for operational experience and frontline mentorship are created proactively for men, while women are expected to have acquired frontline experience ‘elsewhere’ in order to qualify for advanced technical and leadership roles.

“Women who return to school to further their expertise feel that their academic skills are underutilised and undervalued, negating their investment in advanced education. There is also a perception that operational experience is rated more highly than advanced qualifications when it comes to attaining advanced technical and leadership roles, but women struggle to access the same ‘stepping stone’ operational roles as men do in the same organisations.”

Women are, for the most part, attracted to the mining sector by the type and variety of work it offers, the opportunities for professional growth and advancement, and the competitive remuneration. “These three factors remain consistent across regions, with developing regions (Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa) ranking remuneration as the highest factor for attraction into the industry. It’s surprising, therefore, that mining has one of the highest median gender pay gaps of any industry – an estimated 25% in the United Kingdom alone.”

So, while more women are entering this male-dominated sector, the industry should be kinder to the fairer sex and foster all the talent that it can muster. “Mining companies face the challenge of a generation: driving competitiveness in a world of declining productivity and rapidly advancing and differentiating technology, alongside the imperative to meet and exceed safety and sustainability requirements,” McKinsey points out.

“To achieve these goals, the industry will need the richest and most robust talent base possible. Creating a practical road map for diversity should be a hands-on and structured collaboration among talent and HR functions, operational functions, and company executives. It cannot be an afterthought once annual strategic planning is complete.”

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