Saturday 17 April 2021
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Spotlight on gender diversity in mining sector

The mining sector is no different than any other male dominated industry, where attracting and retaining women in non-traditional roles and developing women to senior leadership roles is a difficult challenge.
But the need to increase female participation is even more compelling in the multibillion-dollar industry and women in the industry hold strong views that there is need for dialogue and discussions on gender diversity and inclusion in the mining industry.
The president of the Women in Mining Association of Namibia Zenzi Awases this week indicated that although women have always been part of the mining industry, they have always been subjected to common job functions in support roles to the technical jobs function, such as human resources, finance, secretaries.
“We call these the traditional roles of women in the industry because we were rarely associated with the technical job functions. Up until about 15-20 years ago, the industry did not employ women unless in the traditional roles of soft skills, however, in recent years women have started entering the industry in the more technical job functions such a geology and engineering,” said Awases this week while speaking at the Chamber of Mines of Namibia’s mining conference.
She also indicated that it is no longer an unusual occurrence to see female geologists, metallurgists or engineers or women in operational roles such as a truck driver, a boiler maker or fitter & turner.
“We are also hearing that more and more females are EPL holders and the involvement of women in small-scale mining. We also see more and more female students graduating and taking up employment in the mining industry. The fact is, the industry has opened its doors to us…women are now able to integrate into fields which they would have not necessarily occupied before,” she pointed out.
But despite the changes in the industry, she said women still feel marginalised in the industry.
“We believe that part of trying to answer this question is to first understand the key words which resulted in the doors being opened for female participation in this previously male-dominated industry. These words are diversity and inclusion,” Awases said.
“The word “Diversity” is a very broad term and generally refers to any characteristics that makes people different from one another… Gender being one of those characteristics. Inclusion” is about creating a workplace where differences are valued (not just tolerated or accepted). Inclusion puts the practice of diversity into action by creating an environment where people from different backgrounds (race or gender) are welcomed and treated with respect; feel included and integrated; given equal access to opportunities; given equal opportunities to contribute their ideas and concerns and where the variety and richness of perspectives and ideas are harnessed to create business value,” she said.
The Employment Equity Commission reported that in 2016, 21% women were employed in the industry vs 16 % in 2017. The statistics also indicate an average 18% of the total mining workforce since 2009 are women.
The EEC also reports that the number of women at entry levels are high and consistently lower at more senior executive positions.
“This phenomena is referred to as the “leaky pipeline” but is not unique to the Namibian mining industry – it’s a global phenomenon. That said, the data only tells the story of diversity…While there is progress, the pace of change is painstakingly slow,” lamented Awases.
She said some of the pertinent challenges facing women in the mining industry include salary gaps, lack of mentorships and networking, lack of female role models and a lack of clear career path.
“We are also faced with intangible (which can be harder to tackle) issues such as work/life challenge, perceived lack of skills/experience and gender stereotyping,” she said.
Awases said attracting and retaining more women in the mining industry will require a widespread change from “yesterday’s mining industry to tomorrow’s mining industry – which will be a more inclusive industry.”
“I believe that value addition has no boundaries and no gender, all it ever needs is a visionary and an equal, fair and just playing field. The more women we have changing the dynamic at the top of the industry, the quicker we will reap the rewards that diversity can deliver,” said an optimistic Awases.
Awases said: “My fellow women this is not a platform where we will get together to only complain, we need to strengthen and support each other to make a mark in this industry.”

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