Women in mines key to driving earnings

Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe (Gallo Images/Business Day/Freddy Mavunda)
Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe (Gallo Images/Business Day/Freddy Mavunda)

Admittedly there are some things women can’t do as well as their male counterparts in the mining industry, such as handling heavy machinery, for instance.

Then again, women are better than men at arriving at work on time; and they don’t break the large articulated trucks they operate either, unlike men. That’s according to Deshnee Naidoo, CEO of Vedanta Zinc International and a Minerals Council South Africa board member who’s driving the organisation’s White Paper aimed at advancing the role of women in the industry.

There’s a raft of information that shows involving women in the mining business is not just the mark of a just, modern society, but a good business strategy.

Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have a return on equity in excess of 53%, while diverse companies in general deliver 19% more revenue from innovation, according to the Pearson Institute. Closing the gender gap in economic participation by a mere 25% by 2020 could increase global GDP by $5.3tr.

“We need a firm intervention to step up female representation in the industry,” said Naidoo ahead of the launch of the White Paper, which was on 8 March, International Women’s Day. “If we don’t put it on the agenda of the CEO, it doesn’t happen.”

Currently, there are about 54 000 women working in SA’s mining sector, the equivalent of 13% of the sector’s total workforce – a clear under-representation given that there are slightly more women than men in SA. But the aim of the White Paper extends beyond numbers. 

Numbers are largely what the recently redrafted Mining Charter is all about. It already asks that 5% of mining goods procured by the sector are produced by companies owned and controlled by women, or youths.

“We want to give that impetus and drive,” said Naidoo. “The Mining Charter is not getting us to the desired end-state, which is to stop at nothing less than 50% representation. We also need to shift beyond compliance. And we need to provide equal opportunities.”

In tackling the scourge of a poor mine safety culture, mining companies want employees to drive safely to work, operate safely in their homes and lives, since the feeling was that habits aren’t miraculously dropped at the mine gate. Similarly, the council’s White Paper is seeking broad cultural change in how women are regarded and treated.

SA has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. A woman is murdered every three hours and there are 84 cases of rape a day. “These are statistics about which every man in SA should be ashamed,” said Roger Baxter, CEO of the council. 

Several strategic points have been identified by the council, which has assembled a task team of 12 members, mostly women (Naidoo said more men should be on it), with the aim of making this a serious point of adoption in the industry at the highest level. 

There are some encouraging trends underway. Anglo American and Rio Tinto have staff complements consisting of 20% and 18% women respectively, but the White Paper also wants improved working conditions underground, including access to ablutions, for example.

Another trend is the fact that SA’s mining sector is becoming increasingly digitalised and mechanised. According to the Minerals Council, about 30% of SA’s mining output will be from modernised mines by 2025. “We see modernisation as a driver that will help us level the playing field,” said Naidoo.

The department of minerals and energy is supportive of the initiative. Its cooperation will be a key aspect if the council is to be successful, one feels. “We have had preliminary discussions with the minister (Gwede Mantashe),” said Baxter. “The department has been invited to be part of the task team.” 

This article originally appeared in the 19 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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