Catherine Walubita was not only the first woman to graduate in the field of Mineral Processing and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Zambia — but she graduated at the top of her class. She has since risen through the ranks from a graduate metallurgist at Konkola Copper Mines to heading up the Nkana Smelter and Business Excellence departments, and is today Head of the Refinery Tankhouse.
By Kathy Sole
In my 2nd year of university in the School of Engineering at the University of Zambia, I was curious as to why no female had ever pursued Mineral Processing and Metallurgical Engineering. I took on the challenge and later graduated — not only as the First Female to graduate in the field of Mineral Processing and Metallurgical Engineering, but also the Top student in the Class of 2004 in my discipline. From then, I knew I had found my passion.
I’m currently Head of the Refinery Tankhouse at Konkola Copper Mines in Chingola, Zambia. This entails overall day-to-day safety, compliance, production and maintenance planning and management, process optimization, working capital management, and employee development and productivity. My experience in rising to a leadership position within the mining industry has been both exciting and challenging: challenging, in that I have had to work harder to prove myself, in a male-dominated industry and that I have skill and technical expertise to execute my duties; exciting, in that it allowed me to challenge the status quo.
The mining sector in Zambia is still mostly male-dominated, with less than 15% diversity in the core mining functions and far less in leadership roles directly related to mining. It means that being a woman working in this sector requires you to prove yourself more, and can be frustrating and challenging at times. As I got to leadership roles (supervising not only a male-dominated team, but most also older than me), I found that being confident and decisive helps me, plus fostering a respectful and professional working environment.
The problem-solving part of it! I love how dynamic the industry is and every so often you are presented with different challenges. I find working towards finding solutions very invigorating.
I have a couple of people who I look up to in the industry. But I would say the one person that has been constant is my sister: Mirriam Mwale Pumulo is amongst the most professional, driven, and determined person that I know. She has constantly pushed me to achieve and strive for more.
In my experience, it’s the perception that women working in the industry cannot be good enough or have the technical know-how to do their jobs. To adapt to fit will mean that one is conforming to this perception. I would rather be the change and work hard to influence changes in the industry so that no-one is made to feel they have to “fit in”.
My career ambition within the company is to head a business unit. This role has never been held by a woman in the organization, so l’m ready to take it on.
I would also love to start a consulting firm in the future.
That it’s okay to want a career and be good at it and also want a family…just leverage on your support system and not be a super human!
Choosing to stay in the Mining industry. About 5 years into my career I was offered a role in a field outside mining. I decided against it and I’m glad I did.
No, but I would love to.
I’m pro quotas. Women who meet the criteria should be given equal opportunity as their counterparts. But so long as not too many women are in leadership positions or are given the opportunity, not much will change. Policies to encourage workplace diversity need to be pursued at national level for meaningful changes to be made.
I think WiM groups can change the industry as there are a lot of women who go into the mining sector and then branch out after two to three years into other fields. If they’re in groups where they can talk to someone who can understand what their challenges are and offer guidance, it would make the industry more appealing. Mentorship can also be encouraged in the groups.
In my opinion, sexual harassment is rampant in the industry. I would advise young women to know what rights they have going in, and how to go about protecting themselves without feeling they’ll be discriminated against or it will cost them a promotion.
For me, having an understanding and supportive partner. The work hours can be long at times and having a good support system really helps. It’s also important to have close family and friends away from work to just zone out of work for a while and enjoy life.
Becoming by Michelle Obama.
I’m involved mostly in sport. I adopted a community football club that is trying to fund-raise, not only for their sport but also their school requirements. I’m also a vice-chairperson of a swimming club that takes part in National championships.
Catherine Walubita has spent 15 years in the mining industry in Zambia, all of which have been at Konkola Copper Mines. She has held roles as Head of the Refinery Tankhouse and Head of Nkana Smelter and Business Excellence, following experience as Operations Controller, Plant Controller at the Acid Plant, and as the Tankhouse Metallurgist. She holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from the Copperbelt University and a Bachelors’ degree in Metallurgical and Mineral Processing Engineering from the University of Zambia. She is a professional member of the Engineering Institute of Zambia and vice-chairperson of the Zambian Branch of the Southern Africa Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.