SA’s mining sector has made massive strides in attracting women to careers in the industry. But what is the next step for equitable gender objectives?


Nditsheni Ramovha is responsible for thousands of lives. As the section engineer at Anglo American’s Ivan Plant at Union Concentrators in Swartklip, it is her duty to ensure the safety of all employees on the plant. Her daily routine includes determining if there are enough resources on the mine, ensuring safety is up to scratch, managing breakdowns that could hamper productivity, and preparing her team at the start of each day.

‘Mining is seen as dangerous, rough and remote,’ she says. ‘But as a woman in mining, I feel like I’m contributing towards changing this perception and showing women out there that we can do it.’

Ramovha entered the field through an Anglo American programme. After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Johannesburg, she completed her practical training at Anglo American Platinum before becoming an engineering trainee.

She is one of a thousand or so of women who are blasting through the rock ceiling. While men still far outnumber women in this traditionally male-dominated industry, SA has set an example in terms of creating opportunities for women, and lobbying for more equitable gender representation.

According to Mining for Talent 2015 (a review of women on boards in the mining industry from 2012 to 2014, published by PwC on behalf of Women in Mining UK), SA compares well to the rest of the world in increasing the number of women making up the workforce at board level. Almost 20% of senior executives in the top 100 JSE-listed mining companies are women and 17% are on boards.

SA tops the list, beating the UK, US, Hong Kong, Canada and Australia. The proportion of female students enrolling in mining, meanwhile, has increased from 33% to 37% from 2010 to 2013, according to a recent Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) study.

The perception of mining being a man’s domain is slowly changing, says Lerato Molebatsi, Lonmin’s executive vice-president for communications and public affairs. She adds, however, that while the industry has acknowledged the need to have greater representation of women in mining, it hasn’t been easy, specifically in the current environment of low metal prices and the associated recruitment freeze and job cuts.

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SA’s constitution recognises gender equality as one of the cornerstones of democracy and the Department of Mineral Resources actively promotes female participation throughout the mining industry, from core mining positions to executive level.

Prior to the introduction of the South African Mining Charter, female representation in the sector was insignificant. Besides the physically demanding aspect of deep-level mining, women were legally prevented from being employed in underground mining activities. They have also been largely under-represented in engineering and technical disciplines at school and university. Ideological barriers, including prejudice, have resulted in women steering clear of underground work.

In today’s workplace, however, the obstacles to women working underground, for example, are being addressed, and mining companies encourage women to be active at all levels in the industry.

Originally, the charter set a target of 10% for women in core mining jobs and by 2014, overall representation had reached 10.5%. The charter is now aiming for 20% female representation in the industry by 2018.

Noleen Pauls, chairperson of WiMSA, believes that while developments in legislation have led to an increase in female miners, there is still headway to be made.

‘Companies have viewed reaching the South African Mining Charter of 2002’s 10% quota for women as a goal that, once achieved, needs no more attention in terms of continual empowerment and employment of women within mining,’ she says.

No one can deny that it has provided focus on women in mining workplaces that previously didn’t exist. This awareness highlights the importance of discrimination, health, sanitation, pregnancy, housing and proper personal protective equipment, as well as verbal and physical abuse.

It appears not all companies understand the business case behind driving change, and without current legislation, change would not have occurred, says Pauls.

Change, however, is taking place. As a result of the nature of mining in coal and diamonds (significantly mechanised due to opencast or fairly shallow mining), these commodities are leading the trend of attracting more women to the sector.

According to the Chamber of Mines, the coal-mining industry is one of those that attract the most females. In the ‘professional’ category, 31% are women, 13% in the ‘technical’ category, and 13% are plant and machinery workers.

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‘Companies have viewed the charter’s 10% quota as a goal that, once achieved, needs no more attention’


Gold is not faring badly either. AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye, for example, have all achieved and exceeded targets stipulated by the Mining Charter.

AngloGold Ashanti has the best record, with 7.9% female representation in core mining roles and 26% at management level (as at December 2014). For Gold Fields, it was 16% and 14%; Harmony at 10% and 16%; and Sibanye at 4.8% and 9.4%.

These gold mines, among others, have recognised that women working underground have unique logistical, health and safety requirements. This has led to the introduction of a number of innovative strategies to deal with these, including added safety and security, sexual harassment and privacy policies, and gender-sensitivity training among male employees.

Harmony is expanding its development programme, which is aimed at ensuring women’s issues and needs are recognised and addressed, with assistance from the company, government, donors and NGOs.

Marian van der Walt, corporate and investor relations executive at Harmony, says: ‘We acknowledge the imbalance caused by historical systems in South Africa and work to remedy this through a recruitment policy that focuses on employing historically disadvantaged South Africans, which until not too long ago included women, at all levels of the company, from the board through to entry-level employees.’

The company has put considerable time and effort into developing its successful women-in-mining project, which has seen many females find fulfilment in their underground roles, she says.

Anglo American is another mining company that provides a good example of best practice. Some 17% of its 18 000-strong workforce consists of women. This figure has improved year on year, with women constituting 24% of management in 2014 (2010: 19%), and 17% of its overall workforce (2010: 13%). Women in core functions represented 13% of the workforce in 2014 (2010: 9%).

Anglo runs a number of innovative programmes. For example, its business unit, Coal South Africa, is developing a pool of professional ‘successors’ through individual development plans. During the course of the next two years, these employees are expected to be ready to fulfil roles that meet 75% of the company’s succession plans.

Particular focus is being placed on building a stronger pipeline of female talent to assume technical and non-technical roles as well as higher management positions. Women comprise 32% of the current pipeline of successors for operational roles.

Eight women were appointed in higher roles in the past two years, following a robust period of carefully managed individual performance development.

In 2014, women accounted for 51% of Coal South Africa’s 104 ‘professionals in training’ (PIT), with 43% working within a technical discipline. PIT programmes are tailored to each discipline and aim to develop graduates into highly competent professionals within their fields of study.

Lonmin offers another support channel, taking its commitment to women in mining a step further by helping local schools produce the right calibre of school leavers, and so expanding the pool of potential skilled employees to draw from. ‘As our schools produce more female matriculants, so we will have more young women entering mining in future,’ says Molebatsi.

Between September 2012 and June 2015, the company invested more than R23 million in supporting the learners, schools and teachers of the greater Lonmin community (GLC).

‘These initiatives have had a positive impact on the quality of matric results in the GLC since 2012, which has allowed more members of the GLC to be eligible for Lonmin bursaries at tertiary institutions,’ she says. ‘For example, in 2011, only 30% of its bursary students were from the local community. In 2014, we had 89 bursars of which 56 were from the GLC, effectively doubling the percentage of local tertiary students receiving support from Lonmin [63%] compared to 2011.

‘Of these, 24 were female, including its top bursary student for 2014, a young and very promising mechanical engineer.’

There is much to celebrate, though – as Molebatsi points out – the issue of women in mining is not necessarily a numbers game but rather about changing minds and perceptions, and breaking down barriers.

‘It’s about empowering our “mighty girls” and inspiring them to become the next generation of artisans, geologists and engineers, and making sure that our values and culture allow them to thrive once they get there,’ she says. The journey ahead still holds many challenges.

By Tracy Melass
Image: Gallo/GettyImages