South African women are embracing the mining profession because of passion for an industry they see as offering better opportunities and being challenging. Despite this they feel there is a lack of mentorship and career development guidance and still believe that outstanding performance is the single most important criteria for advancement.

These are some of the findings from the Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) survey, launched in Johannesburg today.

The survey was conducted among 300 women in the corporate and operational side of the industry, across all levels of seniority, from students about to enter the industry to those nearing retirement at over 55.

“As Deloitte, we are very keen to hear views of women across various sectors; their experience help us shape our own work environment to be better suited to attract and retain talent” says Liesl Balzer, Manager, Strategy & Innovation Deloitte, who points out  Deloitte’s own initiatives for developing female leaders.

The Deloitte Women in Leadership (DWiL) governance body supports the advancement of women through the ranks at Deloitte. Through various initiatives and by hosting selected events, it aims to attract, develop and retain talented women in Deloitte and also provides a platform for business women in South Africa to connect.

The WiMSA report points to an increasing involvement of women in mining.  In 2000, 4% of employees in mining were women. The figure has risen steadily over the years, first peaking at about 14% in 2010, dropping slightly before rising to current record levels of 17%.

“The challenge, is not to increase the number of women in mining due to historical target setting but because it makes good business sense, as well as to boost valuable talent in the mining industry” said Noleen Pauls, the chairperson of WiMSA, who spoke at the launch.

Pauls also points out that the industry is succeeding in attracting younger women. She says the challenge of course is to retain them.

Amongst several key survey findings, the first is that women working in the industry are passionate about the sector and perceive the industry to hold opportunities for them.  Their reasons for choosing mining include passion for the field, job opportunities and attractive salaries on offer. Women also like the fact that mining is a challenging industry with access to opportunities through bursaries.

Respondents feel a lack of mentorship and career guidance makes getting ahead a challenging mining. 62% of participants agreed that there is a lack of access to relevant role models and mentors for women in mining; and 54% of respondents agreed there is not enough career and development guidance relevant to them.

Furthermore, 44% of respondents agree their company does not value gender diversity and 49% of the respondents think opportunities of advancement are often awarded based on gender.  “There is also a strong belief that women have to work harder to receive the same level of recognition and respect as men.” says Pauls.

Interestingly, 30% of respondents say outstanding performance is the main criteria for advancement. Other factors include being in the right place, having supportive seniors in the right levels of seniority, with length of service ranking particularly low.

Pauls says women find mining to still have inflexible working arrangements (45%), and unsupportive work culture (53%) and unsuitable infrastructure and equipment (41%).

Finally, students express an eagerness to enter and grow in the industry, although they do have concerns. Chief among these are health and safety risks, the work culture, working in remote locations as well as shift work. Students prepare for the industry through field trips and exposure to mining operations.

Pauls concludes by noting “While the South African mining industry has outperformed other mining industries across the globe in its employment of women, there is still work to be done to change the broader attitudes and workplace culture to more readily embrace women, and acknowledge, harness and celebrate their positive contribution.”

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