After a long and storied history in stereotyping, it seems that the mining industry is actively working to turn itself around, as a rise of influential female leaders can be seen.
Case in point is Exxaro Resources, who have announced the appointment of its first-ever female Mining Manager, Tamara Qwatekana, for their operations in Belfast.
“It’s an honour to be recognised as deserving of carrying this huge responsibility,” says Qwatekana.
“I’ve been honoured during my career at Exxaro to have had two people willing to take a chance on me. First was Caesar Nokwe, who appointed me as Grootegeluk’s first female superintendent; and now Lazarus Ramashilabele, who has appointed me as Exxaro’s first Mining Manager.”
This is particularly true of South Africa. In the mining industry, just 17 percent of senior management is female, while that number dwindles to 16 percent in top management.
In the commodities sector, in general, only 14% of the workforce in bigger segments such as diamonds and iron ore are women, 13% in coal, 12% in gold, while the highest employers of women (chrome, cement lime aggregate and sand) hover at just 17-18%.
It is patriarchy that Qwatekana is familiar with.
“Often, the decisions you make get challenged,” she said.
“When this happens, you have to check if they are challenging your expertise or the fact that you are a young woman.”
“To me, women empowerment means giving women opportunities and holding them to the same standards of accountability as their male colleagues.
“Women empowerment is proving, beyond doubt, that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to and knowing that the standards didn’t have to be lowered to ‘accommodate’ us,” Qwatekana goes on to say.
It seems that the tide is finally turning, with hires like Qwatekana’s and companies like Exxaro.
“Exxaro is fast-tracking a lot of females through succession planning processes, and ensures that adequate support is provided to them,” said Mandla Motau, Manager People Ops at Belfast Mine, where Qwatekana works.
“We prioritise females for training opportunities such as engineering learnerships, internships and PIT programmes to create a sufficient female talent pool.
“For example, as a result of collaborative efforts between the BU and Corporate Centre, Belfast Coal achieved 22% female representation at a head of department level and 35% across all levels.”
Qwatekana concludes, “I believe it is the responsibility of every person in a position of power to create diversity in the mining industry. We must create programmes that educate on diversity, not just the need, but the benefits of having a diverse workplace.
“Diversity goes beyond hiring a young black woman. It also means creating an environment where a diverse workforce can thrive.”