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Overcoming gender inequality is a priority

While gender inequality in the workplace continues to be of concern in South Africa (and the rest of the world), businesses like Exxaro have been looking for ways to bridge the gap.

In a male-dominated industry like mining, women have proven themselves to be just as competent and valuable – despite the industry-related stigma and stereotypes.

At Exxaro, we know that giving more women a seat at the table is key to facilitating growth and innovation within the business. This has further encouraged the management team to find ways to bridge this gap and empower women to promote a more diverse and inclusive mining sector.

Read more about women in mining

I’m proud to say that Exxaro has been involved with some incredibly impactful initiatives targeted at empowering women. These initiatives are designed to benefit both female employees and women in the wider community. In celebration of Women’s Month, I would like to shine a light on just a few of these projects and the real differences they have made in women’s lives.

Some examples of their women in mining initiative include personal protective equipment designed with women in mind as well as looking into specialised panic buttons on miners’ lamps to signal distress while underground.

Giving female business owners much-needed support

Through Exxaro’s Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme, business owners can access resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Three prominent examples come to mind when discussing this programme.

Amokelani Agriculture Co-operative, founded by Thabitha Chauke, started as a small vegetable garden. As her passion for farming grew, she knew that she would like to own a farm one day, but she did not have the means to turn this dream into a reality.

Watch: Women in mining – wisdom from the front line

Exxaro became aware of Thabitha’s drive and passion and wanted to assist her in doing more, so we invested more than R3 million into her project. As a result, the farm now supplies vegetables to Lephalale as well as the Pretoria municipal market.

When Exxaro needed to renovate the GaNala ESD Incubation hub, we appointed women to fulfil several critical roles. Sophy Sibanyoni from GaNala was the Principal Contractor. Her management style, work ethic and attention to detail were crucial in ensuring that the renovation ran smoothly.

Exxaro Matla Coal is proud to have provided this economic opportunity to a local woman-owned construction business. Lilian Hlatshwayo (the Community Liaison Officer) and Elsabe Calitz (the Architect from MWC Architects) also contributed to the renovation of the hub.

A large part of the project’s success is due to their dedication, quick thinking and professionalism. Thanks to these phenomenal women, the incubation hub can continue its commendable work of training local SMMEs.

Matshidiso Dlungwane started Stenda Trading – a 100% black-, women and youth-owned business that provides multidisciplinary services to the mining sector. The company also aims to address the shortage of women-run and owned enterprises that provide technical services to the mining sector.

They provide underground civil and cleaning services to Exxaro’s Matla Mine. They handle everything from installing and maintaining lifelines and cleaning refuge bays and wash bays to building containment and explosion-proof walls and installing black brattices, reinforced brattices and air crossings.

After being awarded these contracts, they approached Exxaro to join the ESD programme and received an interest-free loan of R9.2 million to procure equipment, vehicles to transport material and employees. I look forward to seeing them grow from strength to strength in the next few years!

Alignment with the United Nations and Mineral Council South Africa

By being actively involved in furthering the Minerals Council Women in Mining strategy and the WiMSA annual Mining Career Day for Girls, Exxaro looks to enable and support diversity in the mining industry.

The topic of diversity and inclusion has become increasingly relevant across the globe. International organisations such as the Mineral Council South Africa (MCSA) and the United Nations (UN) have used this opportunity to set industry standards.

The goals of the MCSA and UN are to achieve gender equality by ending all forms of discrimination to provide equal opportunities to all – regardless of their race, gender and socio-economic background.

In addition to this, they are also looking to provide accessible, inclusive, and, above all, safe public spaces for everyone. Exxaro supports these noble aims, and our women empowerment initiatives always have these goals in mind.

The Diversity and Inclusion Plan

There is a great power that comes with working in a diverse, inclusive team as they often achieve the best results when working on a project together. To ensure that this type of team structure is supported, we have formed a Diversity and Inclusion task team.

Studies have found that equality in the workplace promotes innovation and growth while inspiring creativity and instilling a sense of belonging. To fulfil our vision of powering better lives in Africa and beyond, Exxaro has embarked on a journey of transformation by implementing and driving initiatives that support this.

Understanding that everyone is unique with multiple facets of diversity can create a work environment that celebrates these differences and contributes to an organisation’s success. Companies that recognise this will better be able to meet their growth and strategic objectives by enabling an inclusive company culture that empowers everyone.

Women at Exxaro

We are committed to promoting gender equality in the workplace by empowering women. Currently, women make up 22% of the workforce at Exxaro, but there are real plans to increase this number.

To prove that we’re not just making promises, Exxaro is proud to share that 43% of our young professionals in training, 33% of our bursary and scholarship recipients and 35% of the members of our learner pipeline are women.

While these figures are promising, it is predicted that they will continue to improve as these initiatives gain momentum.

Partnering with government to ensure women empowerment

While Exxaro is committed to empowering women, we cannot do it alone. Various government departments across South Africa have been mandated to promote diversity and inclusion across all sectors and levels of governance.

Legislation has been implemented to promote transformation, with one of the most prominent examples being the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Codes of Good Practice.

In addition to this, the Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities and the Commission for Gender Equality are tasked with ensuring that the socio-economic empowerment and rights of women, youth and persons with disabilities are mainstreamed and protected across all sectors of society.

I’d like to encourage all businesses to think about how they can support government in achieving these goals. Gender equality is a pressing issue in South Africa and initiatives need to be put into place – and supported – to ensure that this equality gap is reduced and that all citizens have access to the same opportunities.

As we celebrate Women’s Month, it is necessary to highlight not only the victories of women, both past and present but their ongoing struggles as well. In doing so, South Africa will be able to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion.

AUTHOR: Tebogo Leepile, Community Development Manager at Exxaro