As a girl growing up in Rustenburg, Tshegofatso Kole’s parents told her she could achieve anything she set her mind to. Today, she’s not only inspiring the next generation of young women to reach for their dreams, but she’s becoming a powerful campaigner for gender equality in the workplace at a time when women are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the PwC Women in Work Index, the pandemic is reversing the important gains made over the last decade for women in the workforce, with women in work back at 2017 levels due to COVID-19 by the end of 2021. In South Africa, the picture is equally gloomy, with ongoing research showing that women have not yet caught up to pre-Covid levels of employment and work hours, while men appear to be back at pre-Covid levels.
“The mining industry is one of the cornerstones of the South African economy, and has become more relevant than ever to the country and the communities in which it operates. Now, COVID-19 is pushing us to be more innovative and sustainable than ever, and to find new ways to help build a resilient economy by addressing societal issues like gender equality and youth employment,” says Kole.
By day, Kole is a financial controller at De Beers Group, where she oversees the technical accounting and financial reporting activities of De Beers Consolidated Mines, a South African Business Unit of De Beers Group. A qualified Chartered Accountant, she previously worked as commercial manager at the Voorspoed Mine, where she led the day-to-day running of the mine to ensure a successful closure in December 2018.
As part of the De Beers Youth Forum, she has played an active role in driving the company’s #NoShame HIV campaign, which aims to change the narrative and stigma around HIV. She also participated in the 2019/2020 UN Global Compact Young SDG Innovators Programme, which highlighted the need to find innovative ways to embed sustainability into the industry, she says.
“I’d never fully appreciated the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prior to the programme. I thought I understood the social issues we are facing, but I didn’t appreciate their magnitude. To be in a room with fellow young minds, eager to solve problems, was inspiring. The 10 months of the programme was not enough to solve all the problems we identified, but it was a catalyst and a motivator,” says Kole.
Her journey with the Group started when she was a bursar at Anglo American in 2008 and later as a BLAST Graduate in 2012. It is opportunities like this that she would like to see extended to more young South African women as the country looks for ways to break down the deep-rooted structural, cultural, and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table, and empowering the young female leaders of tomorrow.
“Driving greater female participation in the labour market will have a massive impact on the economy and our communities. There are significant benefits from getting more women into jobs. I believe young people have a real role to play here to facilitate conversations, embrace diversity and help accelerate solutions to the challenges we’re facing,” she says.