The issue of gender inclusion once again featured in this year’s Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February. And there were no surprises – mining is still very much a man’s world, particularly at the senior executive management level.
“Women in high mining positions tend to refer to the sector as an old boys’ club. Whilst the numbers of men and women who enter the sector at graduate level are more or less the same, there are few females in senior leadership roles,” says Claire McMaster of Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA), referring to her own country.
Whilst South African companies manage to attract women at the entry level, they seem to fail to keep them and see them through to the higher echelons of management structures.
“According to our research, 50% of women who are working in the South African mining sector are between 26 and 35 years old. However, by the time they are 55, this percentage is down to 3%.”
South Africa however is not the world’s worst performer in terms of gender representation in the extractive industry, on the contrary. Mining For Talent, a 2015 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), shows 19.8% of all executive management positions of the top 100 mining companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) are held by women. This is considerably higher than economies such as Australia (7.5%), the United States (12.1%), and United Kingdom (4.6%).
In addition, South Africa’s ratio of female board members of the JSE’s top 100 mining companies stands at 16.8%. Africa’s second largest economy hereby outperforms Australia (14%), the UK (15.3%), and the US (11%).
The situation is however not ideal, says McMaster. The main reasons South African women decide to leave the mining sector include a rigid glass ceiling that prevents them from moving up and paternalistic views on how women should behave in the work environment.
“For a young woman who is working in the sector, assertiveness is often viewed as aggressiveness by male superiors,” she says, adding that this deters women from staying.
Thuthula Balfour-Kaipa, who heads the South African Chamber of Mines’ health division, agrees. The patriarchal nature of South Africa’s extractive sector also discourages women from asking for raises, better opportunities and promotions.
“Psychologically, we are not used to ask for a better deal because it is seen as demanding. Men, however, do tend to ask for better opportunities. Millennials are changing this around. They are confident enough to ask for what they want.”
What doesn’t help is the fact that men are still often seen as more important employees than women, says Balfour-Kaipa.
“At the work place, men are seen as the main breadwinners, whilst women tend to be seen as supplementary,” she says. “When it comes to retrenchments, male workers tend to be viewed as people who have a family to provide for, whilst when it comes to women, people assume they have a man looking after them.”
A lack of successful role models, mentors, and guidance is another reason women leave mining prematurely, says McMaster. According to a 2014 WiMSA study, 62% of respondents complained about poor access to relevant role models and mentors, whilst 54% agreed on a lack of career and development guidance relevant to them.
“That is why we at WiMSA are running a project which has identified 13 senior mining women as patrons,” McMasters says. “Women in our very male-dominated industry need role models like Deshnee Naidoo, CEO of Vedanta Zinc International. They need to know they can achieve that too.”
So why should mining companies work to retain its women employees, and groom them to become senior executives? According to McMaster, the answer is simple.
“Various research reports have shown having a critical mass of women on your board and in your senior leadership team positively impacts on your financial metrics, decision-making, transparency, and corporate governance,” she says.
Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, Chair of the JSE and former CEO of steel and mining firm ArcelorMittal South Africa, concurs. Making space for women makes business sense.
“It does not make sense to draw skills and expertise from just one half the population, particularly if you want to create a competitive advantage now that mining is struggling due to commodity volatility,” she says.
“If you focus on just men, how do you know you will get the right skills for your company? In my view, you are creating more risks if you are not embracing this particular topic, and not including women.”