Sheila Khama, Director of the Africa Natural Resources Centre at the African Development Bank (AfDB), has over 20 years of experience in Africa’s extractive industry. Besides serving as CEO of De Beers in Botswana, she worked as the compliance officer for 20 subsidiaries of Anglo American Corporation in Botswana.
The glass ceiling, however, is not confined to mining, she says, nor to Africa.
“Mining is no different from other industries, including the financial sector,” Khama explains, referring to various reports around the issue of African women at the corporate helm.
“Africa’s mining industry, in addition, is not very different from mining sectors elsewhere in the world. When looking at the world’s largest extractive corporations, you will find that only one – Anglo American – has ever been headed by a woman, namely Cynthia Blum Carroll,” says Khama.
Whilst she acknowledges a shortage of female top mining executives, Khama says this can’t just be blamed on the sector. In her view, it’s a symptom of society’s inability and unwillingness to grab the issue of gender transformation by the horns.
“The mining landscape can’t change faster than society does. Take the issue of education and what is expected of women. From what I know, more and more African girls are enrolling at primary and high school level, and many of them are outperforming boys,” she says.
“At university level, however, the number of African female students declines. This figure drops even further when girls are about to enter the working world, mainly because of societal pressures to get married and raise children.
“The mining sector can’t change these things. Like other sectors, we also depend on the willingness of society to release women from traditional roles and allow them to excel and break through the glass ceiling.”
That doesn’t mean mining companies should sit back. They certainly have a role in attracting and retaining women, and grooming them to become directors and executives.
“Companies should in fact profile and appoint women to strategic positions, draw up internal policies that deal with gender transformation, and use those policies to deploy women at the top and set other female employees up for success,” says Khama, adding this should not be a token.
“If gender transformation is a token, it has no future. It has to be embedded in a company’s business logic. Women need to be seen as an economic asset… They bring crucial skills to the table, skills as relevant in the mining pit and processing plant as in the boardroom.”
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