The longstanding male dominance and masculinity cultures in the mining industry have had consequential effects of women facing the realities of participatory barriers.
The gendered organisational nature of mine work has over the years created sociocultural barriers affecting effective participation of women in mine jobs.
Beyond the barriers, nonetheless, the South African mining industry has witnessed courageous women who have been at the centre of stimulating a shift in background dispositions and gender dynamics, leading to the participation of an increasing number of women in the industry over the years.
One woman who has successfully challenged the status quo of “not being taken so seriously” in the mining environment is AECI Mining’s senior technical officer, Linda Kretschmer, who, in her current role, spends a large amount of her working time at the mine face.
Kretschmer started working in the mining industry in 2007, and over the years she has had the opportunity to work across commodities, including gold, diamond, platinum and now coal, in surface operations. She also previously spent significant time of her working career in the quarrying industry.
In her own words, “This career path sort of just happened. I started out as a site administrator with a mobile crushing company based in Port Elizabeth. From there, my path took me to a drill and blast company and that opened even more doors, finally leading to AECI Mining. I have always enjoyed open spaces and the outdoors, and this line of work gives me exactly that,” she says.
While Kretschmer enjoys her current field work, she is not resting on her laurels – she is aiming even higher. “I wish to advance up the corporate ladder,” she says. To further advance in her career path, she finds satisfaction in learning. “I want to learn and earn. In my mind, I have a career path mapped out.”
The wheels of learning have already been put in motion. Having obtained her blasting ticket in 2013, Kretschmer is currently studying for an Explosive Management qualification with the University of South Africa.
Having joined AECI Mining in April 2017, she is currently a senior technical officer, and spends most of her time on site. “I manage the ‘A team’ and I am responsible for the day to day operational issues,” she says.
Commenting on the challenges women face in the mining industry, Kretschmer says one of the biggest hurdles is not being taken seriously. “I also find that ‘guys’ want to deal with ‘guys’, they want to speak to the ‘man’ in charge,” she says.
There has always been a traditional perception in the mining environment that men are able to endure difficult tasks, perform heavy duties and handle heavy machinery better than their women counterparts. And since mine jobs are highly male skewed, the expectation that males are better miners is strongly and widely upheld in a section of the South African mining sector.
Rather than taking offence, Kretschmer has always chosen to see the ‘fun’ side of these gender stereotypes that are consistent in associating mine jobs to macho-masculinity.
“I have found out that the best way to deal with this is to just do what you want to do and do it really well. Just keep at it, and keep going. Keep smiling and never lose yourself,” she says.
For women out there contemplating to take up a role in the mining industry, Kretschmer says the starting point is to find a mentor and take guidance from them. “Like with any other industry, not just mining, there are ‘sharks in the water’, and to navigate such an environment, you need help,” she says.
She concludes: “Be true to yourself, if nothing else, you will always have your integrity. Have respect for yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect others to? Most importantly, SMILE, this is a journey, not the end, so enjoy it!”