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Opinion: SA’s Mining Sector Needs To Make Intentional, Impactful Strides To Make Gender Equality A Reality

If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, it is that the world and societies can adapt and change. While challenging, we have seen governments and business responding to the crisis, with varying success to ensure balance between economies and social needs. Change, as far as the pandemic goes, has been substantially rapid and swift, paving way for innovation and deeper collaboration across the board. Most importantly, the global health crisis continues to prove that the more intentional society is about seeing through change, the more likely it is to effect that change.

There are some areas of society that remain less touched by the status quo. South African women still struggle to be heard, to be treated as equals to male counterparts in terms of general conduct and remuneration. In 2021, women are still expected to step up the assertiveness to be noticed and recognised. My entry into the mining industry was motivated by seeing the commitment of mining companies towards creating opportunities for the inclusion of Blacks, a disadvantaged population previously excluded or not well represented at professional levels in the mining industry. 

Decades of experience in the local and global mining and resources finance sectors have shown that there are five fundamental cornerstones required for any mine to achieve sustainable growth over time. These include accessible mineral resources, an effective, well-managed capital structure, world-class technology infrastructure, a supportive social and regulatory environment, and strong and diverse human resources.

While most mines have an appreciation of the first success components in the above list, the human resources element often receives less than its fair share of attention or prioritisation. It is ironic, because highly functional and effective people are arguably the most important support pillar that any mine can have.

The simple truth is that to achieve sustainable and inclusive long-term growth, it is imperative that the human resource component of a mining operation is inclusive, diverse and transformed. To succeed, mines must be fully representative of the society in which they operate. And in this country, that society comprises 51% women. Unfortunately, the female representation in most mines in South Africa still falls woefully short of this figure.

Transformation targets set by the government should be used as a guideline, but it is the responsibility of mining companies to do their utmost best, to go above and beyond these guidelines, to correct gender and racial employment disparities.

With a mere 12% representation by women in the sector, the Minerals Council South Africa recently announced that its members had agreed to ensure that industry doubled the percentage of women in mining by 2025 and worked toward 30% to 40% women representation across the industry and 50% in management, within the next decade.

Interestingly, this lack of female representation does not appear to be for lack of trying. Most sector participants have been sponsoring female students – in disciplines ranging from geology and engineering to environmental sustainability, accounting, and humanities – in relatively large numbers since the early 90s. Based on this student support, the industry should be at commendable levels of female representation by now. Unfortunately, this is not the case; and it is time for the mining industry to start interrogating this extensively.

Human capital that is diverse is a massive strength in a complex and ever-changing operating environment like mining. It is a proven fact that a diverse workforce, built on gender equality, leads to insightful decision-making, stronger governance, higher productivity, and improved financial performance. I have been privileged to witness this truth first-hand, watching several leadership teams with good female representation turn around the performance of companies. The experience of Implats is a good recent example of this, where a diverse and inclusive executive team has improved safety, productivity, financial performance, and growth significantly.

South Africa’s mining sector has all the right ingredients needed to be a driving force in global mining and resources. We have a good foundation, a mature industry with diverse commodities, excellent universities that are still supported by mining companies, a high intake in students for mining-related courses, exceptional experience to tap into for coaching and mentoring, and an awareness of the power inherent in diversity.  All that is needed now is the real will to make such diversity a reality.

By Bukiwe Pantshi, Principal: Mining and Resources, Nedbank Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)