Razia Adam is Chief Geologist at South Africa’s Middelbult Colliery and Shondoni Mine. With just seven years under her belt she’s set her eyes on where she wants to be and is shaping out her future aided by her all-important mentors. Her mother was terrified when she swapped medicine for mining. As a single parent, Razia says mining is not easy because of the long hours and the attitudes of some men. However she’s helping other women to get into mining and says trust and experience erode discrimination. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
When I studied at high school I wasn’t aware of geology as a profession. I knew about mining but not geology. My heart was in medical sciences, I wanted to become a doctor, and I enrolled for medicine, BSC chemistry at the University of Free State.
During my studies, one day I walked past the geology building and outside there were all these rocks. I was standing looking and admiring these rocks and then the Head of Geology came out and asked me: “What are you looking at? Are you familiar with these rocks?” And I said: “What do you in this department, what is a geologist’s job, what is their role in the mining industry?”
Thanks to the Head of Geology, I became a geologist. Seeing those different types of rocks was quite fascinating. I love nature and am inquisitive about how certain rocks form and how gold is mined and then made into jewellery.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
In South Africa, now it is common among my female counterparts to pursue a career in geology or mining, whereas 10 -15 years ago there was a huge shortage of women in mining.
Young women are encouraged to take mathematics and science in high school. I was fortunate to be awarded a bursary from the MQA (Mining Qualification Authority), it helped in off-loading the financial burden on my family, and without the bursary I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my geology studies. The MQA and other institutions are trying to create platforms and opportunities for young women who want to pursue a career in mining; this breaks the stereotype that mining is only for men. It is because of these opportunities that today many young women in South Africa see a career beyond being a doctor or a nurse.
What’s it like at SASOL?
While there is legislation in place that promotes the representation of women in the South African mining industry, it continues to be work in progress and the company is not just meeting the statutory requirement. There are women in various positions in the company from underground, at the core of our business/ at the “coal face”, right through to Senior Vice President.
There is still a gap in corporate South Africa, only a few women with technical skills and experience serve on executive committees in boardrooms. The executive roles tend to be held by non-technical skilled women, e.g. non-geologists, in most cases from Human Resources or Finance. There is still a slight lack of confidence in women with technical skills to serve on executive committees.
Did you/do you encounter much discrimination?
The early stages of my career, started on a sour note, I had it bad. Currently, I would be lying if I said I felt discriminated against, as the focus on us as women is more on our growth. There is much less discrimination than earlier in my career. But this also goes with trust and experience.
You will go through a phase where they [men] will not trust you that much and question your professional competency and value, but as you work and show and prove yourself, the trust grows and then they can easily put you within the promotion ranks.
Within SASOL is there a women’s group or proactive committee?
“Sasol Women’s Network” is a group-wide forum and extends to other parts of the company but it did not encompass Sasol Mining. Since joining Sasol Mining in 2012, I realised that there was great potential in establishing a women’s forum in our environment. So I approached my mentor, Pierre Jordaan, Sasol Mining Vice President: SHE and Mining Services. I told him it was a challenge to voice my concerns to a woman and not necessarily to my line manager, who is a male. I told him that I would like to form a Woman in Mining forum at the mines where we target female colleagues from all levels.
We started this last year, 2014 and we have already employed women through the forum. We brought in 60 women from the mine’s surrounding communities to the mine; these were women who had previously failed the fitness test and couldn’t be employed by the company. They were taken to a boot camp to prepare them for the fitness test. We told them: ‘We are going to take you through a 6-month programme to get you fit, and bring in a dietician and to make sure you are physically fit to work in the mine environment. ‘
Today I’m proud to say that out of the 60 women, 50 have been employed by the company. We are now busy looking at a fast-track development programme for women. The forum has chosen 23 women in the company to be groomed for more senior managerial positions.
Have you had mentors that have helped you? And how important are they?
Hennie Coetzee, Foskor Chief Geologist, was my mentor who trained and developed me during my graduate and early junior geologist days. Louise de Jongh, former Foskor HR Vice President, also helped and gave me opportunities. I must say my career has been fast-tracked by my mentors who have given me great advice. Patrick Ndlovu my current sponsor is a Divisional Operations Manager at Sasol Mining. He has played a big role in enhancing my technical skills.
How easy is it as a working mother with children to have a career in mining?
Well it’s not easy considering the work hours of the mining industry. That is the number one challenge – especially if you are a single parent like me.
I’m fortunate to have a family member who can look after my daughter, if I have to work late and friends whom usually assist me with picking my daughter up from school, if I have a late meeting
But it is definitely a challenge and that is one thing that most men don’t appreciate, or take into consideration when they book meetings at 6pm when you need to leave pick up your child. Some men really don’t understand that and you can see they are not willing to and you will hear comments like: “You women in mining want to have it all. You want to be in the mining industry but you also want to tell us about your kids and that you need to leave at 5pm because your child will be locked out of aftercare.”
So we still have a big gap there for single parents. We are not making excuses. Yes I can stay this day and another until 6pm but it can’t be a regular everyday thing. As long as it does not affect my work, I don’t see why I should suffer for this.
What would you love to do next? Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I definitely would like to work towards bringing more women into higher levels in mining which is part of the women in mining objectives.
Where I see myself — is as an executive at a mine. I just completed my masters in mineral resources so I aim to move forward into more strategic positions in the company.
And I would still love to work in the gold environment.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
I wish I’d been told that mining is not as clean as you think it is. You need to be very dirty and get your hands dirty in order to survive. It’s not what you are shown at university. You will be dirty until you go up the ranks. But we don’t need to look like men or tomboyish when you come back above ground, you can like your heels and nails and be a woman and proud of that!
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Firstly know what you want to study and be ambitious. Trust in your abilities. You need to have a passion for that career and then you need to find yourself a mentor, sponsor and a coach and give yourself enough time to evaluate and find the right person who will assist in getting you to your goals.
Have a goal that has a deadline and make sure that your mentor is aligned with your goals and is pushing you towards them.
Finally you need to drive your own career and if you have that goal – then trust me – you will be fast tracked in your career!
And what about your daughter – will she go into mining?
I doubt I will allow it, but she says she wants to become a doctor. Seeing what I have seen, I love my career and the mining industry but I’m not sure as a mother I would want my daughter in mining. If I’m allowed to say it, then it would be, ‘No child, not mining’…but it’s really up to her.