Women in mining: Africa – Businesses need to mine women’s talent

Published: 16/06/2015

Women must be better represented in Africa’s growing extractive sector, for the sake of commercial success as well as fairness

Africa is at a turning point, emerging as one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering sustained economic growth rates of 5%, almost 2% higher than the global average, in spite of challenging global macro-economic conditions. The continent is becoming an investment hub, attracting foreign investment of $80bn a year. A chief contributor to this regional growth is the Extractive industry (EI) sector – including oil, gas and mining. 

Africa holds 30% of the planet’s mineral reserves, including 40% of its gold, 60% of its cobalt and 90% of the world’s Platinum Group Metal reserves. The natural resources on the continent present a unique opportunity for shared growth and drastic reductions in poverty. Yet, mounting evidence suggests the economic growth has not benefited a large portion of the population, or created decent jobs or reduced poverty at any significant rate. Africa is still home to 30% of the world’s poor.

The inequality patterns are particularly pronounced for women. The regional obstacles holding back gender equality include unequal access across the range of productive resources, including land, financial resources, information about markets and appropriate technologies.

However, there exists great opportunities to bridge this gap by including the participation of women in the corporate world through enabling legislation, policies and environments. The EI sector is an incredibly important driving force for economic development – particularly in Africa. The sector presents real opportunities to integrate gender equality and change the rules of the game.

UN Women is advocating for women to be represented across all categories of employment in the extractives industry, especially in decision-making positions. The goal is to have women firmly located as proactive agents within the legitimate mainstream mining sector for sustainable benefits for individuals, communities and countries.

According to Women in Mining UK’s Mining for Talent Report 2013, company profit margins are higher for mining companies when women are on the board of directors. Another study by non-profit research group Catalyst found that female board representation in business indicated higher returns on sales, equity and invested capital.

There is an opportunity to shift women from the livelihood and survival levels to true empowerment, enabling women to build assets, create wealth and move into business leadership. For example, in 2002 the South African Mining Charter introduced quotas urging mining companies to employ 10% female staff.

Women are being held back

Globally, the mining industry has the lowest proportion of women on its boards of all industries, with women occupying only 5% of the board positions of the top 500 global listed mining companies, according to the Mining for Talent report by Women in Mining and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. However, mining companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have the best level of female board representation in the mining world, with 24% South African women sitting on the boards of the Top 100 global listed mining companies and 21% of South African women sitting on the boards of the Top 500 global mining companies. This example of good practice can be replicated among other governments and private sector companies by globally introducing legislation and policies that encourage gender diversity.

Finding the right balance

The World Bank is supporting UN Women in the development of a Training Module on Gender and the Extractives industry for policy and decision makers in the region. UN Women is also working with a number of companies in the extractives industry to develop a Guide for Gender-Responsive HIV and Aids Programming in the Sector. The guide covers the main HIV and Aids related issues in the workplace and aims to provide a quick reference for companies, health practitioners and decision makers on gender responsive actions in the industry. The guide will be launched in June during the Seventh South African Aids conference in Durban.

In collaboration with multiple partners from Regional Economic Commissions, national governments, UN agencies and civil society, UN Women will host a Regional Knowledge Sharefair on Gender in the Extractive industry on 13-15 October this year. This event will provide a platform for stakeholders to discuss and consult on the key gender-specific impacts of extractive industries, including opportunities and barriers facing women in the sector. It will also offer an opportunity to showcase and share best practice and tools for gender-inclusive extractive industries, including policies, interventions and development models which can be adapted and scaled up.

UN Women, together with the UN Global Compact, developed the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in 2010, which provide a seven-step blueprint to empower women in the workplace, the market place and the community. They offer a tool for a results-based partnership with the global and national business community and align with the evidence that empowering women is a strategy for a healthier bottom line.

In a recent General Assembly resolution, UN Member States welcomed the WEPs and requested that Global Compact Local Networks promote them and help create awareness of the many ways in which business can promote gender equality. Since the launch of the WEPs, nearly 1,000 business leaders from around the world have signed the CEO Statement of Support for the WEPs, signalling their support for gender equality and the guidance provided by the principles.

With poverty reduction as a key global agenda, the ambition is that development gains and wealth are dramatically increased by one thing – investing in women.

UN Women is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Read the Women’s Empowerment Principles http://weprinciples.org/