Q&A: Women in Mining SA

Claire McMaster, chairperson of Women in Mining South Africa, on combating the glass ceiling, the need for strong mentors and widening the talent pool

Q&A: Women in Mining SA

Q: What is Women in Mining South Africa and why was it formed?
A: Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) was formed in 2010 and it’s a not-for-profit association representing professional women working in the mining industry. It is a voluntary organisation – I, for example, am the group HR manager at the MSA Group – that creates an empowering network to inspire, support and develop the progression of women working in the mining industry by providing access to education, skills development, mentorship and representation. WiMSA membership is free to all women in the local mining sector.

It exists through the generous sponsorship of companies such as Anglo American, Deloitte, the MSA Group, the Mineral Corporation, Geostaff, LeapFrog and Idwala. There are similar WIM organisations in several other countries.

Q: What challenges do professional women in the SA mining sector face?
A: The WiMSA Deloitte Insomnia index found that women battle with the male-dominated culture of the industry and the associated glass ceiling for women in terms of career growth. It also noted that legislation hasn’t always been supportive of women in the industry, for example when women were not allowed to work underground. The lack of support of women has also contributed to a challenge in retaining female talent as they often move to other industries. Navigating male-dominated working cultures is often cited as a barrier to promotion and women report being excluded from informal networks, which stifles career growth.

They need to develop the necessary confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness required to operate at a more male-dominated, senior and decision-making level. Leaders develop iteratively – they are shaped by their experiences, so if they do well they will repeat that behaviour. Subtle bias can interfere with this development in women. A number of our members bemoan the lack of strong mentors and women in leadership positions that can serve as role models. Some organisations still experience infrastructure and equipment design problems. For a woman to enter the more senior levels in a mining company she really has to prove herself over and over on each project she tackles.

Women in senior roles are often more qualified than their colleagues on the same level. On a practical level, managing company requirements to create flexible working environments is a challenge that is often easier said than done and there’s the importance of creating a work/life balance.

Q: What do women bring to mining? How can this compliment the sector?
A: Women are often cited as displaying different leadership behaviours to men and as a result of this diverse thinking and approach, organisations experience better financial results. Examples of such behaviour include the ability to communicate well. They ask tough questions and don’t leave issues ‘hanging’, they are perceived to have better EQ and focus on the people behind the numbers. They are less political, more collaborative, good listeners, empathetic, take initiative and are reasonable, among other things.

‘A number of local companies outperform those in other countries when we compare senior female leadership’

Q: How does SA compare to other countries when it comes to women’s representation in mining?
A: SA mining companies are quite focused on developing and being better represented by women in their organisations. A number of local companies outperform those in other countries when we compare senior female leadership and board representation figures. For example, according to the Mining for Talent 2012 WIM UK report, the figure is 21.05% for JSE listed companies, compared to 11.97% for Australia’s ASX and 4.27% for the LSE/AIM.

The statistics for 2013, although not available yet, show a widening of this gap in favour of SA. However, we have a long way to go and the more we create an industry that is a great place for both men and women to work, the better talent pool available to mining organisations.

Q: What is the best way for companies to attract more women to mining careers?
A: Organisations can take a holistic approach to aiding the development of women. Creating a culture that supports diversity can only be driven by the CEO and senior leaders. Once senior leadership commitment is visible, it needs to be supported by the appropriate policies and procedures 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 ensure that targeted training is available. Removing the focus from women-only solutions is important along with recognising the specific talents of women as mentioned previously. Finally, the appropriate allocation of necessary development assignments that allow women to grow and develop are critical.

Q: The SA mining industry aspires to the Mining Charter baseline of 10% female representation and allowing women to participate in technical disciplines. Has it reached that FIGURE? are women GAINING ACCESS TO more technical mining careers?
A: My statistics show that women actively involved in the mining industry make up around 11% of the workforce. This does include administrative and non-core roles. Our current research project looks at what women are doing to take advantage of the opportunities available to them in the industry. To date we have discovered a number of women who have entered the industry by choice as they find it a challenging and interesting place to work. The report will be published in 2014.

Q: What programmes/training does WIMSA have to encourage women to seek and advance in a mining career? How successful have they been? What future programmes does WIMSA plan to roll out?
A: Every year we have a number of informative networking events with speakers from organisations such as McKinsey and Deloitte. Events like these allow women to brainstorm and develop the necessary networks. Also, the formation of a student chapter has become critical for the future of WiMSA. The support provided to young women 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.

Other training initiatives have focused on negotiation skills and the development of self-confidence. We have been very successful in 2013 and as a result our membership figures have grown dramatically. This year will focus on growth in our mentorship programme, events that help women become ready for board positions and the publication of our research results. Our student chapter will soon be hosting a career fair.

Q: Your mentoring system is very important. Why and how does the system work and what are its benefits?
A: We believe that mentorship and skills development programmes are the key to breaking down most of the barriers women experience. As a result we run an inter-company mentorship programme, which starts with speed mentoring to help match participants. It’s supported by ongoing events, workshops and mailshots. This portal is run online using the Kaya Consulting system. It can also include mentoring circles currently favoured by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

Benefits of the Kaya portal over other programmes include the fact that the partners can be coached online. There is a lot of interest to develop this programme into a portal that includes the rest of Africa and further afield. A key aspect is to ensure that mentoring conversations are appropriate and creative regarding the development and adaptability for the mining industry.

‘Removing the focus from women-only solutions is important along with recognising the specific talents of women’

Q: What more should women in positions of leadership in SA mining be doing to assist and support others in the industry?
A: Women can start by supporting other women and serving as mentors, sponsors, role models and coaches. 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. Our first event of 2014 will focus on the extent to which women are ready to fill board positions.

Q: Does WIMSA have a close relationship with WIM organisations in other countries? If so, how are you assisting each other?
A: Yes we do. We work very closely with global WIM groups. We have offered our online mentorship programme to various groups and contributed to WIM UK’s Top 100 Global Women Project and Mining for Talent study. All WIM groups share knowledge on an ongoing basis through research reports, training programmes, networking and learning sessions.

By Kerry Dimmer
Image: David Maclennan