Women in Mining – Gender equality and diversity article graphic

Women in Mining – Gender equality in the mining industry

Women in Mining – why gender equality is important in the mining sector

(This article was a cover story for African Mining Publication)

There are almost equal numbers of men and women in the world, with women representing 49.6% of the world’s population. And yet statistics show that women make up 8–17% of the mining industry. This means that less than a fifth of all people in the industry is female – or an average of 12.5%.

In 2018, the global mining industry's output equalled 6.9% of gross domestic product worldwide at $5.9 trillion. This is a BIG industry – and in Africa, it’s even bigger. The mineral industry of Africa is the second-largest mineral industry in the world.

Looking at employment records from the International Labour Organization, you will see that despite the steadfast growth of employed males, the percentage of females employed has barely changed.

Women in Mining infographic by Halo Media

Why are women so underrepresented in such an integral industry? And, more importantly, what steps can we take to correct this? Gender dynamics are evolving, and inclusion and diversity is a hot topic right now. We need to change current views on how men and women are perceived, let go of unconscious bias and get more women involved in mining.

We asked leading women in the mining industry for their thoughts …

We asked women in the industry what can be done to encourage more women to enter this field and help the industry embrace gender diversity.

Vero Ramampiandra from Rio Tinto QMM Madagascar Vero Ramampiandra | QMM | Madagascar

Vero is a Senior Advisor for Internal Communication at QMM. Her work involves both planning and developing as well as dealing with internal clients. For her, it’s an honour to provide a quality service to internal clients.

Vero believes that there are so few women in mining because of prejudices about the industry being a man's world. She would encourage schools to create more awareness and get mining professionals to host conversations in schools to inspire young people. This way, girls can see for themselves what it's like to work in the industry.

What advice would Vero give to women interested in a mining career?

“Working in the mining sector is not just for engineers or others. You can work in the mining sector, but in support departments, so that operation specialists can operate unhindered. Lack of technical skills shouldn’t be a barrier. I'm in communications and I have familiarised myself with the sector without technical skills.”

Wendy Botes from South32 mineWendy Botes | South32 at Hillside Aluminium | South Africa

Wendy covers the Africa operations for South32 Principal Authorisations and Regulations. Her day consists of meetings, check-ins with operations, engagements with external environmental bodies, spreadsheets, calls and engagements – every day is a mixed bag. Wendy ensures South32 complies with environmental legislation, improves compliance and supports change in legislation to assist the company.

Wendy said: “I believe that a legacy issue is lingering with regards to why there are so few women in the industry. Previously, mining was dominated by males, and many remain in these roles today, creating fewer opportunities for women. But, this is changing with the turnover of staff”.

She encourages women to apply for these jobs and to equip themselves to work in mining. We asked Wendy what advice she would give to women interested in a mining career? “Women need to believe they can do it, and study towards their desired field. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up! Be strong and resilient”, said Wendy.

Balungile Mabele in an interview with mining marketing specialists, Halo MediaBalungile Mabele | South32 at Hillside Aluminium | South Africa

Balungile is a Social Economic Development Specialist, covering the King Cetshwayo District in KwaZulu-Natal. Her days usually involve reviewing projects against monthly priorities, catching up with implementation partners for prioritised projects, and governance and prepping for the next day. In-between, she attends meetings and sees to urgent requests.

Through strategic initiatives that enable local economic participation, youth empowerment, food security, educational resources, and enhanced health facilities, she makes a difference in the community. “In the end, I’m just a lady from rural KZN, trying to change people's lives because I know the feeling of not having much first-hand”, said Balungile, who firmly believes that kindness will never be outrated.

Balungile believes that there are so few women in mining because historically, there weren’t many female role models in such industries, so girls weren’t inspired to follow this path. Certain schools of thought need to be unlearned, and through the transformation model, there has been a shift where more women are occupying decision-making positions. Industries need to understand that women can operate machinery at work, and also get home and cook.

“I encourage young girls to take STEM subjects so we can move away from male-dominated industry references, “female engineers” to “engineers” and “female artisans” to “artisans”.”

The advice Balungile would give to women interested in a mining career is to invest their time in understanding all relevant aspects and processes in the sector so that they produce quality work and become valuable assets to organisations.

Alison Gerber from South32 in an interview with mining marketing specialists, Halo MediaAlison Gerber | South32 at Hillside Aluminium | South Africa

As part of Principal Carbon Management and Performance, Alison covers all regions in which South32 operates. Her days comprise meetings, reviewing GHG data and data analytics, compiling responses to queries from stakeholders and providing support to South32’s operations.

Alison makes a difference by supporting South32 in achieving its interim and longer-term carbon reduction targets and ensuring operations report their carbon emissions accurately within the legislative frameworks in each region.

We asked her why she thinks there are so few women in an industry that is so large and what she would do to fix this.

Alison responded: “This is slowly starting to change with inclusion and diversity becoming more important in the global mining industry. Programmes like “Take a Girl Child to Work Day” are excellent initiatives that can help show our girls what amazing career opportunities there are in mining”.

Mining marketing specialist, Louise CunninghamLouise Cunningham | Halo Media | UK

Louise is a Director at Halo Media, a specialist marketing communications agency for the mining industry. Halo works globally, however, its largest footprint is in Africa. Louise’s day is split into client work consisting of marketing and strategy communications, and R&D into continually finding better ways to deliver these solutions.

We asked Louise how she is making a difference, and she believes that through the power of educational campaigns they are creating at Halo, that they are educating people in mines and neighbouring communities to be safer and hopefully better citizens through a range of topics.

“There is a lack of awareness of what the mining industry contributes to society, and there is not only room for women to succeed, but a need for them to contribute to ensuring balance. Every object in your life, from toothpaste to an electric car, originates from a mine, and people are surprised by this.”

Louise believes that the mining industry is ‘invisible’, which could be the reason why so few women enter the industry.

What advice would Louise give to women interested in a mining career? “Look at the big picture and see how you can fit in, then go for it! Mining is not just people in hard hats – there’s finance, HR, communications, safety and more! The industry needs the natural empathy that women bring to avoid some of the issues that have occurred in the past through a lack of perspective and intuition. Coming from an all-girls school, I’d simply never thought mining was an option. I never knew about it before getting into it, and certainly didn’t aspire to be part of it.”

There have been big improvements for women in mining.

In the last two decades, much has been done to make women feel more comfortable in the industry. Better toilet facilities underground, PPE more suited to women and stricter sexual harassment policies. The remaining issues are constantly being addressed by organisations like Women in Mining (WiM).

So how do we fix the remaining issues and get more women into mining?

Wendy from South32 pointed out that this is a legacy issue – that we need to change minds, and the only way to do this is through education. Louise from Halo felt that this industry is invisible to women and this starts at the school level.

Create visibility and opportunity

  • Visibility can be created by showcasing mines at conferences, schools and tertiary education centres
  • Companies should encourage “Take a Girl Child to Work” initiatives
  • Social media should show women in the workplace challenging gender stereotyping

Change from the inside out

  • Challenge legacy thinking by creating awareness campaigns. As an African Mining Magazine reader, we’re encouraging you to be part of this change through an awareness campaign for your company from Workforce Campaigns. This campaign will educate your employees about Gender Diversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace. These unique campaigns cover key touchpoints, allowing your message to be displayed in common-use areas, Toolbox Talks, WhatsApp and more. Visit Workforce Campaigns here for your Women in Mining Gender equality campaign.
  • Create a female-friendly environment by ensuring your workplace is safe from sexual harassment, caters to the needs of women through subjects such as maternity cover and suitable PPE, and ensuring bathrooms are equipped for the requirements of women
  • Look for opportunities where women can excel and improve the company. Women have proven to be better drivers of heavy-duty or large equipment such as dump trucks and draglines. Women have a steady approach and tend to cause less wear and tear on machinery

Mining is the worst-performing industry in the world in terms of the inclusion of women in C-suite and board positions. Efforts must be made to foster the promotion of women into senior leadership positions.

But why should women care about mining? Traditionally, women are the home keepers, and in every home throughout the world, thousands of minerals are used in the products we use every day. So, it’s in our best interest to ensure these are mined responsibly, and sustainably for the future of our children, and that the opportunities within the industry are not based on gender.

Over the next 10 years, jobs in metal ore mining are expected to grow by 16.3%, which is faster than the national workforce growth rate. With so much opportunity, why shouldn’t women chase these careers?