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UMS Group: Women are the catalyst for change

For a woman to succeed in the still male-dominated mining industry, they need to have a clear career path and garner strength from within.

This is the advice from ERIN GILFILLAN and TAKALANI RANDIMA who are part of the executive management team of UMS (United Mining Services) Group. GERARD PETER reports.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 7, 2020
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here

Both women hold key positions and are vital for the shaft sinking and engineering company’s progression and ongoing success. Gilfillan, who joined UMS in 2019, is the Divisional General Manager for METS MINING (Mining Engineering Technical Services) and METS PROCESS.

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She has a B. Eng. degree in Chemical Engineering and has been in the EPCM sector since 2006, working across diverse commodities and regions. In her role, Gilfillan runs the International and South African businesses for METS, which is the engineering and design entity of UMS responsible for all engineering and underground infrastructure designs for mining as well as for the metallurgical processing clients.

Meanwhile Randima joined UMS in 2018 as Manager: Mining Engineering. In 2019 she was appointed as Divisional General Manager for Mining Construction and Development in charge of Shaft Sinkers Southern Africa. Randima has a Mining Engineering degree and started her career in 2008.

She has extensive experience in shaft sinking, mining construction, contract mining and project management. She oversees every aspect of Shaft Sinkers Southern African operations including operations, business development, finance, safety and human resources.

Takalani is often required to be in full overalls and undertake underground inspections of her projects. She understands and speaks the language of the mining fraternity.

More career options and support needed

Both roles require a hands-on approach and both women have the full support and encouragement of their UMS executive colleagues and board members.

“We make decisions on a day-to-day basis – commercial, operational and safety – and we have the full backing of our board,” explains Randima.

Gilfillan adds that they also have full support of the company’s UK-based shareholders.

Both women have children and understand the pressures of having to balance work and personal life, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Gilfillan believes that being a mother is sometimes a stumbling block for women in the mining sector, due to the demanding nature of the industry.  

“Some women have their careers halted and become lost to the industry because they struggle to balance work with their families. Companies need to consider ways to provide these women with careers and flexible work options that allow them to achieve this balance.”

Meanwhile, Randima believes that many females are dissuaded from the operational part of mining because it can be difficult and this hinders their progress.

“Yes, it can be tough but once you gain experience, you can progress and become part of management and influence decisions for more female representation.

Regrettably, the issue of gender based violence is an ongoing concern, particularly in light of the COVID-19 lockdown. Both Gilfillan and Randima advocate that more needs to be done to empower woman to allow them to leave abusive relationships.

“One of the barriers to these women is their economic circumstances, so they opt to stay in these relationships. Companies must pay females on an equitable basis to empower them to escape the abuse and support themselves,” says Gilfillan.

Randima adds, “At UMS, we have policies in place on how we deal with harassment and gender discrimination. These are discussed at an Exco level and implemented across the company.

“Also, UMS has an open-door policy and during the COVID-19, we have successfully accommodated our female staff in terms of working from home while also taking care of their families.”

However, despite these potential hurdles for women in mining, Gilfillan believes that one can climb up the ladder if you stick to your career path and have a good support system.

“Right from the outset, I had a very clear and detailed career path. I knew exactly where I wanted to be at each point in my career and that gave me direction.

“When I first started work, I spent a number of years in construction where I was told that if I wanted to wear pants, then I had to work like a man, and I was told that I needed to be less vocal. But I found a good mentor who encouraged me to voice my opinion and then my career took off.”

Randima adds that the determination for a woman to succeed must come from within.

“It doesn’t matter how much you are pushed by others on your career path, a woman needs to believe in herself that she will succeed. You must always have a goal in mind and not just wake up every morning just to go to work. Also, women must not be afraid to sit at the table and the decision to make it to the top ultimately lies with them.”

Meanwhile, while the coronavirus has delayed some of UMS’s business, the lockdown period has provided both women a chance to rethink their transformation policies.

“Working from home during COVID-19, I have had the opportunity to focus on the transformation policy for my division,” states Gilfillan.

Randima has also been doing the same, adding, “COVID-19 has shaken the industry and this period has given us the opportunity to look at how we will have to do business and transformation differently when normal operations resume.”

Gilfillan adds that the positions that her and Randima hold can also be a catalyst for transformation.

“For example, when we recruit staff for projects, we can consider greater female representation in the workforce,” she concludes.

In many ways, Randima and Gilfillan are trail blazers for women in this sector of the industry and are held in high regard by stakeholders in the mining and processing sectors for their knowledge and experience.

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Gerard Peter
Gerard Peter is a content creator and media strategist with more than 23 years' experience in new and traditional media.