Women vital for the future of mining - CNBC Africa

Women vital for the future of mining


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There are an increasing number of women joining the mining industry in South Africa. PHOTO: Getty Images

“The challenge is not to increase the number of women in mining due to historical target setting but because it makes good business sense and the mining industry becomes a great place for women to work,” said Claire McMaster, chairperson of Women in Mining South Africa (WIMSA).

WIMSA, a non-profit organisation aimed at facilitating growth and participation of women in the mining industry, held a session at this year’s Joburg Indaba: Investing in resources and mining in Africa on the importance of women in the mining industry.

McMaster as well as other group members argued that the importance of female representation in the mining industry not only assists in addressing the skills shortage within the sector, but also makes good business sense.


According to the Women in Mining UK (United Kingdom) group’s mining for talent report 2013, company profit margins are higher for mining companies when women are on the board of directors.

While another study by non-profit research group, Catalyst, found that female board representation also indicated higher returns on sales, equity and invested capital.

Another interesting fact, McMaster pointed out, is that there are an increasing number of women joining the mining industry in South Africa.

“The percentage of women working in the South African mining industry is increasing relative to the number of men,” said McMaster. 

Despite these figures, women however remain underrepresented at all hierarchal levels, including top management, while men are five times more likely to advance to chief executive officer roles.


Women face a number of challenges within the mining working environment which inhibits their chances of reaching top managerial positions.

“A constant theme in the research around why women who are competent don’t proceed to the next level is around gender bias,” explained McMaster.

The male dominated workplace culture of the mining industry is often a major barrier for women. For instance, company executives usually arrange golf days with clients in order to build and strengthen relations. 

These kinds of informal networks are created by male dominated management boards and tend to exclude women, which stifles their career growth opportunities.

According to WIMSA, for a woman to enter the more senior levels in a mining company she really has to prove herself (over and over on each project she tackles) – she has to be a cut above the males applying for a similar position. 

“Changing the culture of the working environment is important” added McMaster

Another challenge is the inflexible working environment of mining companies, such as long working hours. This tends to conflict with a woman’s life and work balance as many of them have families to take care of. 

“Mining companies requirements should be changed to create more flexible working conditions,” explained McMaster.

In addition, the lack of mentors or support that women in the industry have has also been a major challenge. WIMSA therefore encourages female employees in mining to join their network so that they can get registered mentors to support and educate mentees.


South Africa’s legislature supports female representation in mining, such as the Mining Charter as well as the Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act, which state that there should be a ten per cent female representation in mining occupations as well as female ownership of mining rights.

 Also, the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) further drove a focus on increasing black female employment within mining operations.

These policies were a major door opener for women in the mining industry but according to Sue Brandt, chief executive officer of Managing Transformation Solutions, they also prove to hinder women.

“The legislation drives a direct focus on gender culture in the workplace and not on diversity culture. Or looking at a more holistic approach,” said Brandt.

Also, legislation makes the obligation for mining companies to hire female staff to be based on a quota driven system.

“Numeric targets alone will not result in desired change”, she added.


There are solutions to resolving the challenges that exist for women in the mining industry, McMaster pointed out.

For instance, mining companies should appoint a chief diversity officer who can create an appropriate work place culture fair to both genders, strengthen group dynamics and levels of trust between employees as well as assess board and senior leadership teams within the company.

Also, women in mining should seek out experienced mentors and coaches in the industry to develop their confidence, assertiveness, self-esteem and other competencies. If women are more confident and assertive in their roles, their chances of rising to the top are more possible.

Dr Cornel Malan, a WIMSA member as well as chief executive officer of technology solutions company, Scientrix, added that mining companies should begin formalising mentoring programs within the business that will provide support and training to staff. 

“Mentoring helps retain the practical experience and wisdom gained from longer-term employees,” she explained. 


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