We want to see women comprise more than 40% of SA’s mining workforce: here’s why …

This is Nolitha Fakude’s prepared address given at the launch of Minerals Council’s National Day of Women in Mining.

MINING plays a critical role in South Africa’s economy. In 2019, the industry contributed R24.3bn in taxes and almost R361bn to our GDP. We were accounted for around 450,000 direct jobs, and countless more downstream ones.

We see it as an industry with vast future potential, but this potential is only going to be realised if we take real, meaningful action to make it a truly diverse and inclusive industry.

This means that we need to “walk the talk” and drive this imperative from the top, and throughout our industry.

There are moral and regulatory imperatives to advancing women in mining.

But there is an even more important point: if women – who account for half the world’s working-age population and over 51% of South Africa’s population – do not achieve their full potential, South Africa’s mining industry will not thrive. When we bring in people with different skills and abilities to make a positive contribution, we get the best outcomes for the industry and South Africa’s economy.

We need to make the industry more attractive to women. The fact that the vast majority of women graduating from mining engineering facilities – up to 50% of some graduating classes – do not feed through into mining industry is incredibly worrying.

It says to me that these (mainly young) women train for our industry, but once they’ve seen the realities of it, look for any other career option where they can exercise their considerable talents. It’s a huge loss. It means we do not have the incoming cohorts of women who, given support and time and mentoring become our leadership pipeline, our specialist pipeline. It means we will simply never have enough women in the industry. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And it’s a self-destructive prophecy too. There is a stubborn myth that women are less ambitious than men. This false claim rests on the idea that with age and the prospect of family life, women lower their career goals – as compared to men. This is far from true. The reality is that women start their careers with just as much ambition as men. The perceived “ambition gap” is a function of the culture we foster in the workplace.

It is only when we, as leaders, create a positive culture that drives wide-ranging changes in attitudes regarding gender equality, that more women will take up their rightful place in the mining industry.

My experience as a leader in business over the past three decades has taught me that women’s aspirations aren’t secondary to those of men. Women can take up specialist roles in any part of the mining value-chain, while also aspiring to leadership roles.

A wide range of global studies show that the more diverse and inclusive a company is, the more successful it is likely to be – in terms of productivity, workplace culture, safety and health, and especially in terms of profitability. Quite simply – more diverse companies, are more profitable and sustainable in the long run.

We also know that businesses with more women employees are also likely to be more resilient in the face of a crisis and more collaborative as they work to reach their targets.

We know that kicking off a new initiative in the middle of a global pandemic might be considered strange, and our timing was seen as less-than-ideal – but we disagree.

This is a critical moment – one where we can identify opportunities and embed a commitment to work towards ambitious targets.

At a time when what we see as normal in every aspect of our lives has been disrupted and fractured, there may never be a better time to challenge the status quo that exists – in society as a whole, and our industry.

We have seen the impact of Covid-19 disproportionately affecting women – their jobs are typically more precarious than men’s, and they tend to assume the greater burden of family duties. But, herein lies great opportunity too.

In a post-COVID-19 environment, we will be seeing workplaces changing to accommodate greater flexibility, social distancing and increased modernisation. These present opportunities for increasing workplace diversity.

I want to highlight the Minerals Councils targets for Women in Mining. These go above and beyond what is laid out in the current iteration of the Mining Charter. They are stretched targets, that we will hold ourselves and our members accountable to.

We want to see women making up more than 40% of the workforce and 50% of management, by 2035.

We are committed to getting the basics rights from the actionable targets we have set for ourselves that go beyond compliance, to insisting that all Minerals Council affiliated companies are held accountable for making this a reality.

We have an opportunity to open the mining industry to many more women so that the industry can thrive. With the commitments we’re making today, I don’t doubt that it is achievable!

Nolitha Fakude is a Minerals Council vice-president and Chair of the Women in Mining Leadership Forum. She is chairperson of Anglo American South Africa.