THE South African mining industry matters as it touches millions of lives directly and indirectly. Despite its current structural decline, it does have the potential to drive South Africa’s socio-economic build-back-better imperative. Gender diversity can be a key catalyst.
The mining industry is not gender diverse and inclusive: 12% female representation is meagre relative to only real target of gender equality. Progress made ie largely on the back of regulatory pressure, has not all been for the right reasons and hence the right pace.
I have had a 22-year journey with this beloved industry. It has not always been easy to be visible. I have experienced harassment, ageism, racism, sexism – I spent years being mistaken for my bosses’ PA, assumed to make the teas and coffees and not voice the truth in meetings for fear of upsetting the male cohort ultimately responsible for my career advancement.
But, I also experienced incredible support, empowerment and opportunity. It is this support that made me believe that I could travel the atypical career path that I have and it is where the focus needs to be.
As CEO, I did not overload the organisation with gender initiatives; I simply focused on hardwiring the business to be gender diverse and inclusive. I mandated hiring women only, created women (and family) friendly policies, included diversity requirements into service contracts, prioritised female talent development, met only women in the community on occasion, progressed pro-women CSR initiatives etc.
In my opinion, there’s a few critical success factors that must come together now to make gender diversity in mining a catalyst; executive ownership with concrete action plans (boards that measure progress), multi-stakeholder commitment, consistently applied policies (sexual harassment is key), pro-women recruitment and development practices, culture programmes that foster inclusivity and an enabling physical environment (we still have some way to go here). The policies, practices and culture programmes must transcend the mine-gate to include communities, suppliers and customers. This is about hard-wiring the mining ecosystem.
There are multiple factors coming mining’s way today; increased ESG focus, decarbonisation, social investing, more regulations, increased stakeholder pressure, technology development, digital disruption etc.
All of this having some link into the new ways of working during and post the Covid-19 pandemic. Women can and must play a key role in all of this. The South African mining industry can seize the opportunity to lead this.
Having served on the Minerals Council South Africa board and having worked on the Women in Mining Initiative for the council; I have no doubt that the committed colleagues there, will do just that!
Deshnee Naidoo was recently appointed director, base metals at Vale. She was previously CEO of Vedanta Zinc International.