De Beers sightholder sales South Africa senior VP Nompumelelo Zikalala discusses the importance of having female mentors in the mining companies for younger female employees.
Camerawork: Nicholas Boyd. Editing: Lionel da Silva
Diamond company De Beers is still struggling to ensure equal opportunities for women in its business. This is according to the company’s sightholder sales: South Africa senior VP Nompumelelo Zikalala and organisational effectiveness lead Varsha Morar, who spoke at training and conference company Intelligence Transfer Centre’s seventh yearly Women in Mining conference, in Johannesburg, last month.
Morar said that, according to employee engagement surveys, exit interviews and learning and development focus group interviews undertaken at De Beers between 2013 and 2015, women employees felt strongly that they faced a variety of challenges related to working conditions at the company.
She said with regard to issues of care, pregnancy was perceived to be used as an excuse not to promote and develop them.
Further, women were of the view that the De Beers workplace was not “gender friendly” with respect to benefits and facilities that support women with their families. The data also found that women were excluded from activities where senior leaders socialise and where key business decisions are made, such as hunting, fishing and golfing activities. “Senior leaders are unwilling to appoint females onto the board of the company.
Senior leaders are also not willing to take risks in promoting women who have the capability but who have not earned their stripes with respect to tenure,” Morar said, quoting the research data. Additionally, Zikalala lamented that the perception that women who reach senior leadership positions in the mining industry did so by “offering sexual favours” to male executives, remained widespread in the mining industry in general. She added that the view that women board members and executives were token appointments and lacked the necessary skills and know- ledge to effectively run mining operations was also widely held. “These attitudes by male executives and mineworkers have resulted in women themselves questioning whether they are good enough. This is an unacceptable and untenable position for women,” Zikalala stated.
She said there was a severe lack of women mentors in the local mining industry, which was a significant challenge to developing a new generation of women leaders in the mining sector. Moreover, Morar highlighted that with regard to growth opportunities at De Beers for women, research indicated that male mineworkers felt that women were not strong enough both physically and with respect to capability to work in core functions in the mine. Morar asserted that radical cultural shifts were required at the organisational level by mining companies to ensure the inclusion of women at all levels.
She noted that many capable women were often overlooked for promotion, owing to the perception that they were weak or would fall pregnant and be absent from work for long periods as a result. Morar highlighted that the principles of cultural inclusion, dignity, respect and the promotion of cultural diversity were central to De Beers’ current transformation model. Zikalala pointed out, however, that, despite the efforts of De Beers to transform, it remained “largely an all boys club” at the board and executive levels of the company, with women making up only between 22% and 25% of positions at these senior management levels. “This is the case throughout the overwhelming majority of mining operations in South Africa and is a clear indication that more needs to be done to incorporate women into the mining sector,” she concluded.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor