The mining sector needs to make itself more attractive to women – as a way of securing the high-level technical and professional skills, and leadership qualities, it needs from the brightest minds.
Much has been made of mining’s slow pace in attracting more women into its ranks, according to SRK Consulting corporate consultant Roger Dixon, but the diagnosis of what keeps numbers so low is less clear.
“Even with the best will in the world, the mining sector still projects an image that discourages women,” said Dixon. “This severely undermines the industry’s urgent need to stay abreast of the latest technologies in a range of mining-related professions, not just mining engineering.”
He said that appointing women as high-profile directors – or alternatively as manual labour to achieve numerical targets – was not addressing the critical need for expertise. He highlighted that the mining sector today demands a variety of disciplines outside of mining engineering – most of which are now heavily driven by digital technology. From hydrogeology, geochemistry and environmental science to metallurgy, mineral economics, geophysics, and a variety of engineering disciplines, the world of mining is increasingly complex – and can be entered through many professions.
“The traditional route into mining – though a mining engineering degree and a blasting certificate – is only one of many ways into this exciting industry,” he said. “This old perception also probably discourages many women from even considering a career in the sector.”
A recent report by S&P Global shows that – while the global mining sector lagged in terms of women on corporate boards – South Africa’s mining industry has the highest level of female representation on boards, at 26.2%. This is an important trend, according to SRK Consulting senior engineer Bjanka Korb, but a better indication of progress will be when women are more equally represented in all levels of managerial and professional roles.
Korb pointed to recent Minerals Council South Africa research which indicated that women occupied only 24% of professional roles in mining, 19% of skilled technical jobs and 17% of senior management roles. This research also predicted that modernisation in mining – the increased reliance on mechanisation and digital technology – would create significant opportunities for women in the industry. There were, however, many negative perceptions to be overcome, she said.
“The location of mines in remote rural areas, and the predominance of men in these operations, can be a daunting prospect for many young women,” she said. “Early guidance and ongoing mentoring are potentially important strategies to counter these influences and encourage women to consider pursuing one of the many professions that mines require.”
She said that mentoring programmes – like those offered by International Women in Mining, Women in Mining South Africa, or company-sponsored internal employee mentoring programmes – can add profound value by helping women stay in the field and build the confidence to take on leadership roles.
“It is encouraging that mines are looking to improve their gender ratios, but the focus should be on strategies to nurture women’s progress and leadership in skilled careers, rather than building employment numbers for their own sake,” she said. “Only in this way can mines gain the full value of women’s contribution, including cultural changes that can enhance sustainability and effectiveness in organisations.”