Jane Mulenshi Gustafsson is the first Zambian woman to receive a PhD in Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering. She was also the first female Plant Metallurgist at Mufulira Copper Smelter, Mopani Copper Mines Plc in Zambia.
She has 11 years of work experience in copper smelting, of which nine years were spent in Zambia and two years in Sweden. Jane also has eight years of work experience in academia, during which she worked for the University of Zambia and Luleå University of Technology in Sweden, where she obtained a PhD in Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering.
Jane is currently a Development Engineer at Rönnskär Smelter, Boliden Mineral AB in Sweden, where her extensive experience in both the mining industry and academia places her in a strategic place of bridging the two industries.
Optimism, resilience, and patience are Jane’s main attributes. Her motto is: “Whatever my hands find to do, I do it with all my might”.
By Kathy Sole
You hold the honour of being one of the first two female graduates from the School of Mines at the University of Zambia (UNZA). Please tell us why you chose to study mineral processing and metallurgical engineering?
A ‘failure’ to get into the only engineering fields I was properly introduced to at the time pushed me into my destined career path! A chat with one of my lecturers in the School of Natural Sciences helped me to make the decision to study mineral processing and metallurgical mining engineering. My lecturer made me have a critical look at my subject strengths and see more career possibilities than what I was then limiting myself to. It was only when I was admitted into the programme that I learned I was actually making history! It was one of my first big and life-changing decisions made at that early stage of my career life. That experience made me see the importance of having good career guidance prior to tertiary education and, if possible, some role models in the fields of interest. So now I don’t see that initial career challenge as a ‘failure’ but a stepping-stone in my destined career path!
You were also a trailblazer much earlier in your life, when you entered senior secondary school in 1993 as one of the first girls to be selected to Zambia’s national technical school (David Kaunda Secondary Technical School). After barely a week at that school, you were appointed in a leadership position as the first head girl, and then held that position for three consecutive years. Please tell us about your upbringing and what led you to have such strong technical and leadership potential at this young age.
I am the first-born child in a family of five girls and one boy, so, for me, leadership training started from home at a very tender age, especially that I had a working mum. I was fortunate to have both parents who were very supportive of my academic development. They made sure I also got time to study at home instead of just doing chores, as was the expectation for a girl-child in those days. My dad particularly played an important role in helping me to have a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) foundation. He was my first and best tutor ever! My STEM foundation was strengthened more when I joined the JETS (Junior Engineers, Technicians, and Scientists) club in Grade 5 and remained active all the way to Grade 12. My dad was also instrumental to my success (I won several prizes) in the JETS club because he taught me how to research my chosen project topics, write project reports and presentations, and pitch my ideas. I was also fortunate to have teachers who identified my technical and leadership potential, and supported my development.
You also became the first female Plant Metallurgist at Mufulira Copper Smelter, Mopani Copper Mines Plc (MCM), Zambia. Please describe your career progression and how you reached your current position.
I obtained my Bachelor of Mineral Sciences degree with a major in Metallurgy and Mineral Processing from UNZA in 2004. I was not only one of the first two female graduates from the School of Mines, but also the student with the best final-year project.
In August 2004, I was privileged to be one of eight graduate engineers (two females and six males) to be employed by MCM on the Mufulira Smelter upgrade project. The smelter was preparing to commission the first Isasmelt Furnace in Zambia. In September 2005, I was picked to be part of the commissioning team that was sent to Mount Isa, Australia, for Copper Isasmelt Furnace operation training at Xstrata Copper, and I was the only female on that team. I was also privileged to be the first female to operate that Isasmelt Furnace during commissioning, and I was one of the trainers for the furnace operators. During my Isasmelt Furnace operation training, I took a keen interest in also learning the OSIsoft PI System that was used to monitor real-time data from the plant so that sound and timely decisions could be made. So, in August 2009, in addition to being a Senior Metallurgical Engineer, I also became the OSIsoft PI System Controller for the company. Under the mentorship of the (then) Smelter Manager, I also learned to manage Metallurgical Accounting section of the smelter among other responsibilities. In December 2010, I was promoted and became the first female Plant Metallurgist at Mufulira Copper Smelter.
In April 2013, I won the prestigious Swedish Institute (SI) scholarship to do my Master of Science in Chemical Engineering with specialization in Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden. I resigned from MCM and, before leaving for my studies, I accepted a Staff Development Fellow (SDF) position at UNZA, School of Mines in the Department of Metallurgy and Mineral Processing. During my studies, I got an opportunity to do my Masters thesis at Boliden Mineral AB, Rönnskär Smelter in Sweden. After completing my studies in June 2015, I returned to UNZA to work as a lecturer and researcher, and had added administrative responsibilities as Assistant Dean for research.
In June 2016, I got a PhD position in Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering at LTU in Sweden, where I had completed my masters. My research study was about developing effective methods of separating valuable minerals from historical tailings while leaving a stable and environmentally safe residue. I successfully defended my PhD in February 2021, and became the first Zambian woman to receive a PhD in Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering.
In March 2021, I started working for Boliden Mineral AB, Rönnskär Smelter in Sweden as a Development Engineer. Having done my master thesis at this same company coupled with my nine years of work experience at MCM, and four years of PhD research gave me a very good foundation for my current position. The expertise I gained from managing the OSIsoft PI System at MCM became even more valuable in my current job as I am now helping to implement the PI system at Rönnskär Smelter.
You have been fortunate to work extensively in both Zambia and now Sweden. These are very different countries in almost every way imaginable! Please comment on similarities and differences in cultures in the mining industries of these countries, particularly with respect to diversity in the workplace and integration of women.
Yes, indeed I have been very fortunate not only to work, but to also study mining-related courses at advanced levels of education in both Zambia and Sweden! In both countries, the number of women doing advanced mining-related programs is relatively small, but Sweden has a higher number than Zambia.
In both countries, the mining industries are male-dominated but the integration of women is more visible in Sweden than in Zambia. For instance, when I left the mining industry in Zambia in 2013, the smelter I worked for did not have women as process operators.
What has been the most rewarding professional experience or project of your career? What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far?
My PhD experience has been the most rewarding professional and academic experience, not only for the acquired ‘Dr.’ title, but also for the contribution I have made towards reprocessing of mining waste-like tailings that are now potential secondary sources of critical raw materials. It is so gratifying to see my work being referred to by other researchers!
I am proud of having received two awards during my PhD studies: the International Round Table on Materials Criticality (IRTC) research grant in May 2019 and the Bergforsk scholarship for best licentiate thesis in May 2020. But winning the prestigious SI scholarship was the defining moment for me academically, professionally, and personally!
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.
I am a very analytical person, and problem-solving is one of my passions. I believe I am the type of person who says, “if it’s not broken, make it better,” as Mr. Sonny Zulu puts it in his recent book, Eccentric: Thoughts Unraveled. So be it personally or professionally, I always want to make a difference by helping to find a solution and/or make it better.
Being self-motivated and self-confident has also helped me a lot, especially as I started my career in a male-dominated mining industry where I had to constantly prove myself. I know what I do not know, so I endeavour to work on those areas where I am lacking. My motto is: “Whatever my hands find to do, I do it with all my might”!
Over the years, I have also realised that one of my strengths is turning life lemons into lemonade, such that my greatest milestones have been achieved when I have faced major challenges. When faced with a challenge that is beyond my control, I use the negative energy as a fuel for things that I do have control over. So, I would say that optimism, resilience, and patience are my main attributes. I am also blessed with a strong support system of family and friends!
As a young leader in this industry, who has achieved what many young African metallurgists can only dream of, please share your advice for managing and negotiating the early stages of a career in mining and metallurgy that can put one on the path to a long-term successful and rewarding career.
Have an open mind to learning from people at different levels of the organisation structure, and be humble!
As a graduate metallurgist, one may have the theoretical knowledge of the metallurgical processes, but practical knowledge is attained by learning from people who have had hands-on training – like process operators. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new and/or improve one’s skills but one needs self-motivation to appreciate this and not feel pressured to learn. Ultimately, all this contributes to building self-confidence as one progresses in their career.
Do you believe that the presence of women in significant management, operational, and support roles influences the ultimate success of a company? Does a more diverse operating team lead to better or different decisions or performance?
Definitely yes! The presence of women in significant management, operational, and support roles enhances the much-needed balanced perspective, and there are numerous benefits in having a more diverse operating team. But diversity needs to be coupled with equality and inclusion to have the ultimate success in a team or company.
As Verna Myers puts it, “Diversity is being asked to the party: inclusion is being asked to dance”. So, women can be present in different roles in a company, but if they are not given equal opportunities and responsibilities, and do not feel welcomed, respected, and valued in those roles, their influence will be very limited or absent.
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d known when you first entered the workplace?
Identify your passion in your chosen career, have self-confidence and self-motivation, because when challenges arise during your career journey, these attributes will be part of your anchor.
I wish I had known that the male-dominated mining industry I entered in 2004 was the advanced version of the experience I had in 1993 when I first entered the once-upon-a-time all-boys Zambia’s national technical school! In both instances, there was a constant expectation to prove that I deserved to be there and belonged there. The workplace was also not adapted for females, so I needed to communicate my needs and patiently wait for implementation.
Fortunately, almost 20 years later since I joined the mining industry, young women can now start their careers in a better and more female-accommodating workplace.
Have you any hobbies or pastimes that you would like to tell us about?
In my spare time, I like reading motivational books. Two books that I have read in 2023 that I would like to highlight are Unleashing My Superpowers by Dr. Patience Mpofu and Eccentric: Thoughts Unraveled by Mr. Sonny Zulu.
As I indicated earlier, my experience with my first career challenge made me appreciate career guidance and mentorship, so over time, I have developed a passion for giving career guidance to people who reach out to me, especially on social media platforms like LinkedIn and WhatsApp. Most students start tertiary education with very little career guidance, and no role models.
At my former senior secondary school (David Kaunda National Technical Secondary School) in Zambia, I am part of the careers group of alumni that helps to organise career talks at the school in collaboration with the Engineering Institution of Zambia (EIZ). It is always a humbling experience when I receive messages of gratitude for positive outcome of given guidance!