Raksha Naidoo, chair of Women in Mining South Africa, on empowering females in the industry


Q: What are the latest stats as far as women in SA mining goes, and has there been significant progress in the past couple of years?
A: Based on the white paper generated by the Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA) in 2020, women make up 12% of the workforce in the SA mining industry. While progress may not be happening at the pace we’d like, there definitely is still progress. The number of women working in the mining sector has increased significantly over the years – from around 11 400 in 2002 to 56 691 in 2019. That’s out of a total mining labour force of 454 861 people.

Q: Mining is often perceived as an unglamorous, dangerous profession. How is that perception being overcome to attract more women to seek a career in the sector?
A: Organisations such Women in Mining South African (WiMSA) focus on better educating people on the insights and experiences of working in the mining industry, to allow people to make more informed decisions on a career in mining. In December 2022, WiMSA launched a career booklet that highlights a variety of careers women pursue within the industry. We intend to share this with young girls at school and university to get them excited about STEM careers, and to show them a more holistic view of the industry and break some of those negative connotations associated with the mining sector.

We believe that networking, sharing of experiences and, of course, mentorship become key factors in not only attracting but, more importantly, retaining women in this industry. Mining companies need to focus on creating safe working conditions for women to allow them to further succeed and flourish, without worrying about their safety.

Q: What work is WiMSA doing to change impressions among male miners with regard to females in the industry?
A: WiMSA works with various mining houses to facilitate and engage in open and honest conversations, discussing various topics related to this. The journey to equality happens with an alignment between men and women, and it is only then that true transformation happens. Continuous engagement and participation in the highest levels of discussions is imperative to ensure that policies are changed and people are held accountable to bring about change and break barriers of the past.

Q: International Women in Mining organisations stress the importance of ‘collective strength’. How is WiMSA actioning this philosophy?
A: All global WiM organisations have the same overall goal – to create a better world for women in the mining industry. The WiMs of different regions focus on different priorities to achieve this, and this is where our collective strength has true power. We can leverage relationships, share stories, learn from mistakes and help each other through experiences. WiMSA actively collaborates with WiM organisations all across the world. Our leadership team has built key relationships with global leaders and works together towards achieving this ultimate goal.

Q: Equipment designed for women – particularly workwear – has been a big problem in the past. Is this now being rectified?
A: This continues to be a challenge. New designs for workwear exist – some mining houses embrace this change and others don’t. This is where we play a role, together with unions and the MCSA, to help women in organisations push for these changes. Mining leaders need to be more focused on these aspects, and the change has to come from the top down.

Q: The safety of women in the workplace, especially underground, is a major concern. What work has been done to address this?
A: This is probably one of the key factors that all groups and organisations are focused on – creating safer working conditions for women at the mines. Gender-based violence is a topic on everyone’s priority list, and the more we talk about this, the more we highlight incidents and stand together to fight against this. Then, hopefully, we can build a safer working environment. Many mining houses are adopting new policies to fight against this, but it needs a community fight to work on educating individuals as well in this regard. It’s changing the mindset of male colleagues that will play a huge part of achieving success here.

Q: What partnerships does WiMSA have within the private sector and government concerning its initiatives?
A: WIMSA is a part of the MCSA Women in Mining Task Team and, through this relationship, we engage with all mining leaders in the private sector. Our members come from various mining companies and mining-services companies, and we continue to network to build the relationships and networks needed to have these important discussions and drive these initiatives.

Q: For WiMSA, a mentoring programme is extremely important. Why is this?
A: Mentorship is one of the foundational pillars that everyone needs in their career journey. It is extremely important at WiMSA, for this reason. We launched our mentorship programme in 2021, and have successfully seen 76 women work through this programme. We focus on various aspects and topics that women need to better equip themselves with, in order to challenge biases, advocate for themselves and find their voices to be the change that industry needs.

Q: Is it correct that companies find it hard to hold on to top women talent in the industry? If so, why is this?
A: Yes, I would agree with this. Some organisations place women in senior roles to tick a box. Some promote them for the right reasons, but then don’t take their contributions on board, or don’t adequately equip them to truly lead. The fight for promotion and retention at senior levels is a massive challenge, as old-school mindsets still exist. And sometimes, the fight becomes too much and not worth it, which is why top female talent leaves the company or industry. Again, mindsets at board level need to change. Change must be driven from that space in order to truly embrace female executives and to listen to their ideas, suggestions and leadership.

Q: Trends point to a very different skillset needed among workers for the ‘mine of the future’. How do you think this will impact the role of women in the workforce?
A: I think women are already equipped with those skillsets to take on the mines of the future. With modernisation also playing a huge role in how mining will look in the future, it will allow for more women to have active roles at mines without being in unsafe environments. As the industry becomes more mechanised, physical strength and stamina will become less important than fine motor skills, dexterity and problem-solving abilities. And this shift will allow for far more opportunities for women in the industry.

Q: What projects is WiMSA running to attract more girls to consider a future mining career?
A: As mentioned, we have launched a booklet, detailing careers in the sector that women can follow, to be distributed among girls at school and tertiary levels.

By Patrick Farrell