Women fight for mining space

As efforts to boost national mining output under a friendly environment continue to gather pace, the participation of women in this lucrative sector remains limited.

Last week, stakeholders in the sector gathered in the resort town of Victoria Falls for the Chamber of Mines Annual Mining Conference to map the way forward for the sector that contributes over half of the country’s export earnings.

Some women took part at the conference, but by far remain the junior partners, both as mine owners or mining business leaders.

However, this is not unique to Zimbabwe.

A report on Women in Mining (UK) by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) suggest that women comprise only 10 percent of the global mining workforce, which undoubtedly contributes to the small number of women in senior management positions, with women occupying only 5 percent of the board positions at the top 500 mining companies.

The sector has vast opportunities that are available for women across its value chains, said Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) president, Dr Divine Ndhlukula.

But first, women need to believe in themselves, think outside the box and take up the challenge.

“I am yet to see where women have failed to deliver in an industry perceived to be men’s domain. The security sector was said to be a preserve for men but women are now doing much better

“The same applies with women in mining, it is not about the muscles but the brains. Women need to get out of their comfort zones, think outside the box and say I can do it,” she said.

Global think tank, the Credit Suisse Research Institute, has recently reviewed the performance of boards over a six-year period and found that mining companies with women sitting on their boards have a higher return on equity, lower gearing, higher price/ book value and better than average growth.

Dr Ndhlukula said such findings prove that women are capable of excelling in any sector.

While mining is a capital intensive business, Dr Ndhlukula said women need to identify areas of opportunities across the sector’s value chain and use them as entry points into the mining sector. This can be in transport logistics, security, machinery or cleaning services.

She, however, said women do not have adequate information and their participation at events such as the mining conference would be crucial in creating business linkages within the sector and across value chains.

“Opportunities for women in mining are immense. It does not necessarily need to be the actual mining but supply some inputs, provide cleaning services, food and catering or logistics. That way, women can tap into the country’s rich mineral resource and empower themselves,” she said.

However, lack of access to funding and bureaucratic bottlenecks have slowed down women’s empowerment, not only in mining but across sectors.

Historically, in certain countries women were not encouraged to work underground in the mining industry.

In the 1960s, it was illegal for women in Australia to work underground. In South Africa, it was considered bad luck to have women underground.

This historical legacy might have led to unconscious gender bias and micro inequities in the sector.

Dr Ndhlukula said a mindset shift is required, starting with the education system as well as implementation of policies that promote women’s participation in mining.

In tertiary education, studies have shown few women choose degrees that would naturally take them into a career in the mining industry with very few school-age girls identifying mining as their preference.

“As far as policy is concerned, I think there are provisions that support women but implementation is the problem.”

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