Putting gender firmly on the agenda: The importance of diversity in mining

October is Global Diversity Awareness Month, yet the world, and our country specifically, is facing hateful racial, cultural, and gender wars that define the treatment of fellow human beings based on the colour of their skin, ethnicity, or gender. The message of celebrating our differences and uniting South Africans together as a force for change has never been more critical. I believe that even though we are diverse, it is these differences between us and our diversity that make us stronger.

At an industry level, this means reinforcing the belief that a diverse and inclusive workforce of men and women across ages, races, and backgrounds will have a positive and lasting impact on society.

In light of this, Exxaro recently hosted an educational webinar with the Mail & Guardian to lead the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Empowering all our employees and connecting them through a wide range of perspectives is key for boosting innovation and enhancing the performance of our mining group as a whole.

The webinar is one example of a host of company-wide events we organise throughout the year to catalyse new programmes and initiatives that promote a more diverse, inclusive and collaborative industry. Historically a male-dominated sector, gender equality is a key focus pillar for Exxaro, and it should also be for organisations in the mining industry. Let’s look at what we can do as an industry to empower women and transform our workforce.

Setting gender-diversity targets and committing to them

According to the Minerals Council South Africa’s (MCSA) Women in Mining in South Africa Fact Sheet, women currently make up 12% of the mining workforce, compared to 6% in 2008. While slow progress in this area is linked to the country’s legacy of exclusion, this statistic is still low and not where the MCSA would like it to be. Thus, the council has called on its member companies to take bold and collaborative action to address gender inequality in the sector.

As a springboard for this commitment to the representation and advancement of women in the South African mining industry, the MCSA launched the first National Day of Women in Mining. It’s commemorated on  August 21 and is a chance for the industry to reconvene and take stock of gender diversity progress.

As part of this initiative, the council has set detailed stretch targets: to at least double the percentage of women in mining by 2025, and work towards 30% to 40% women representation across the industry, with 50% in management, over the next decade.

Both the Minerals Council Women in Mining Leadership Forum and a senior Women in Mining Task Team will lead the charge to achieve these targets. The council also outlined seven key foundational measures to deliver on by the end of the year, including reaffirming zero tolerance for gender-based violence through the Stop Abuse campaign; providing a reporting system for gender diversity issues; and supplying PPE specifically designed for women.

Transforming from the inside out

But how will industry stakeholders meet these ambitious targets?

It’s going to take real commitment and a mindset shift across all levels of mining companies to truly transform our workplace culture. Industry leaders, labour unions, governmental and regulatory bodies, and all mineworkers, regardless of their gender, will need to join forces to lead this change for the sake of our sector and society.

The MCSA has also developed a Women in Mining White Paper focused on streamlining strategies to promote gender diversity and advance women in mining. The white paper details how organisations can improve their female representation and gear their business decisions to consider women. With powerful women-centric activities, projects, and initiatives, it’s a good place to start for companies wanting to make a real difference in this area.

Attracting more women to mining in the first place is crucial too. At Exxaro, women make up 22% of our workforce, 43% of our young professionals in training, and 33% of our bursary and scholarship recipients. We have clear plans in place to increase these numbers and are committed to finding ways to bridge the gender equality gap and empower more women to have a voice in the industry.

Our women in mining initiatives include the redesign of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect women working underground, and we are looking into developing specialised panic buttons on female miners’ lamps to signal distress.

In addition to this, our organisation offers female business owners financial and mentorship support through the Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme. We have also formed a Diversity and Inclusion task team to facilitate gender diversity across our operations.

It’s also important for these changes to happen at a board and management level. As our CEO and President of the MCSA said at the start of the webinar: “Mining is still a very male dominated industry — the CEOs who sit on the board agree that this is an issue that needs to be tackled and that transformation needs to happen. Not only within the board of the MCSA, but also within the boards of our member companies. This needs to happen right throughout all the levels of our companies that we are managing.”

Creating a culture that celebrates our uniqueness and empowers everyone is critical for our industry’s growth and innovation. The responsibility to promote a more diverse, collaborative mining sector and afford women the same opportunities as men falls on each one of us. Our strength lies in our differences, and together, we can create lasting change. 

Dudu Dlamini is Chairperson for Women in Mining at Exxaro Matla Coal and Secretary for Mpumalanga Underground Coal Regional Tripartite Forum at Exxaro

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