Skills development initiatives for women in mining in South Africa

Published: 30/03/2016
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1)      What is your general assessment of skills development initiatives targeted at women who are   in   the mining sector – poor, average or good?Noleen Pauls- Chairperson of Women in Mining South AfricaMany of the mining companies have embraced skills development initiatives for everyone in their employ. From a WiMSA perspective, our members have participated in annual surveys in the last two years. These surveys have highlighted that women working in the mining industry are enthusiastic about the industry and the opportunities it presents. These opportunities spur them on to grow and develop themselves further in the sector. South African women are proactive about their development, ensuring that they actively request training, join interest groups and seek out suitable mentors. This wouldn’t have happened without the initial initiatives from the companies.


2)       What are some of the barriers to skills development of women in mining?

Women still have to deal with male-dominated, sometimes harsh working environments. Chauvinism is still perceived as a barrier to promotions. More than half of WiMSA research respondents feel that there is lack of career and development guidance relevant to them. Women still have to work harder to reach the same positions as their male colleagues and women in senior roles are often more qualified than their colleagues on the same level. Additionally, there is still the need to develop the necessary confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness required to operate at a more male dominated, senior and decision making level.

More than half of the WiMSA survey respondents feels that there is lack of career and development guidance relevant to them. Respondents also feel that a lack of access to relevant role models and mentors makes getting ahead a challenge. Mentors can help women make appropriate career choices and that targeted training is available.
A lack of career advancement and mentorship should not be seen as a predominant issue in one particular gender or the other. But rather, this relates to the fact that there are very few women in senior management positions in the mining industry and thus very few female mentors who can act as coaches for the younger women in the workplace.
Men in senior management positions can also fill this mentorship role for young women and they should. However, young female graduates are specifically looking for female mentors with whom they can relate, and who share similar challenges as they do.

As the younger generation of graduates climb the corporate ladder inside mining companies, the amount of female mentors will increase, addressing this issue.

3)     Is the industry doing enough to address them?

South African mining companies are quite focused on developing and increasing women in their organisations. Many of these companies outperform other countries when we compare female senior leadership and board representation figures. The statistics for 2015 show South Africa performing even better.
While mining companies have done a lot to attract women to the industry through tertiary education bursaries and training programmes, the process of attaining more technically skilled women remains a key challenge facing the sector.

Approximately 61% of graduates coming into the market place are women, slightly less in purely technical fields. There should be more emphasis on companies providing experience and opportunity to these young female graduates just entering the mining industry and looking to start their careers. The students who participated in the WiMSA surveys believe that more mine trips and exposure to actual mines during their studies will help prepare them.

4)     What can you single out as evidence of strides that have been made in skills development of women in mining?

South Africa is one of the leaders in the world when it comes to employment of women. Since the beginning of 2000, the percentage of women employed in mining increased from roughly 4% to 14%.

5)     What are some of the steps which the industry should embrace to enhance skills development in mining?

One of the greatest challenges remain that women leave the industry. We are seeing a large number of graduates whose understanding of the working environment is quite different to what they expected and they move on to other sectors. In addition, the perception remains among women that their company does not value gender diversity, that opportunities of advancement are often awarded based on gender and that chauvinism is still perceived as influencing promotions and inclusion in decision making. The WiMSA research has highlighted that women in the industry are not taken seriously, or not perceived as having quality technical and scientific insight. Most women feel excluded from informal networks in the workplace based on gender.

6)      What are some of the realistic skills development targets which the industry can set itself, notwithstanding the global commodities slump?

Organisations can take a holistic approach to aiding the development of women in the mining industry. Creating a culture that supports diversity can only be driven by your CEO and senior leaders. Once senior leadership commitment is visible it needs to be supported by the appropriate policies, procedures and hygiene factors such as flexible working arrangements, career development programmes, coaching and then practical factors like equipment and services that support women in the workplace. They can also help women make appropriate career choices and that targeted training is available. Removing the focus from women only solutions is important. Finally the allocation of necessary development assignments which allow women to grow and develop are critical.
Women can start by supporting other women and serve as mentor, sponsor, role model and coach. Focused career development will lead to many more successful women in our industry. All women need to ensure that they are constantly improving their capacity to excel in their current roles and take on new challenges.

7)    What role does WIMSA see itself playing in skills development in mining in general?

WiMSA creates a network to inspire, support and develop the progression of women working in the mining industry through providing access to education, skills development, mentorship and representation. Regular events allow women to brainstorm and develop necessary networks.
Through the WiMSA patrons, we encourage a focus on women that are holding executive positions and are paving the way for women moving up the ranks.

In addition we have a strong mentoring branch aimed at women in the workplace as well as university students.
The formation of a youth chapter has become critical for the future of WIMSA. The support that is provided to them now will largely determine the extent to which they are successful in the future. Student members are looking for mentors and guidance that allows them to remain in the industry by being prepared for the environments and challenges specific to our industry.