“I am trying to lead the way” – Nkhensani Malongete talks about her role as foreman and working under pressure

Published: 11/01/2016

De Beers,

Nkhensani Malongete with some of her colleagues

Nkhensani Malongete with some of her colleauges

I was recruited as an inexperienced youngster with no official qualifications, and my career and recent promotion as the first female Senior Metallurgical Foreman within Venetia Mine’s Ore Processing department demonstrates the value of De Beers’ tried-and-tested, on-the-job training programme for entry level plant operators.

The company seeks to recruit talented and promising young people and develop them for more senior roles. I am fortunate to have benefited from the programme.

I am a single mother so I was searching for a job close to home. My sister works at Venetia Mine and she encouraged me to apply for the position, describing De Beers as a great company to work for and a place where women were being given opportunities to grow.

Looking back at my interview, I had to keep reminding myself that a ‘plant’ was not something that grows from the ground, but rather a system of machines responsible for extracting diamonds from kimberlite. Even so, I was awarded the position and immediately set out to make a name for myself.

I was expected to acquire knowledge and experience in each element of the plant before passing a theoretical module and moving on to the next section. I was able to complete this in record time and was then trained as a process controller and allocated my first official role in the plant’s Central Control Room.

This was the best education: the demanding role taught me the art of multitasking and the ability to work under pressure. While working in the Central Control Room, I was encouraged to act in other roles, giving me experience in the field and exposure to the various disciplines in the Ore Processing department.

During my first years on the job, the senior, experienced men on my shift taught me most of what I know about the plant today.

The job specifications and physical requirements for a plant monitor could easily be considered as unsuitable for female candidates. But, instead, the company encourages women to apply and gives them a fair chance to prove that we can do the same as men, if not better.

As a woman of petite build, I have encountered numerous physical challenges along the way. For example, the Dense Medium Separation operation is physically demanding and requires one to move and lift heavy equipment. As foreman, I am required to operate a jack hammer – quite a challenge for someone of my size. This has taught me resilience and trust.

I have come to accept that as a woman I may not be physically as strong, but I bring other strengths to the team. It also builds trust as sometimes I need to rely on others, just as they rely on me as their foreman.

I have also enrolled in the company’s Supervisory Learnership which is a qualification that provides skills in administration, finance and supervision to junior managers.

As the first female foreman in Ore Processing, I live by the belief that a supervisor is only as good as her team. My leadership style is characterised by respect and an advisory approach. I trust my team and their ability to get the job done. The men in my shift have a lot of experience and I try never to undermine their knowledge and considerable expertise. We enjoy a culture of ownership in which members of the team take accountability and live the company values.

With about six months on the job, my term has only just begun. But I am already trying to lead the way for other women.