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After a long and storied history in stereotyping, it seems that the mining industry is actively working to turn itself around, as a rise of influential female leaders can be seen.

Case in point is Exxaro Resources, with the appointment of their first female mine manager – Tamara Qwatekana.

Qwatekana will be responsible for the Belfast Mine which is also the company’s and South Africa’s first digitally connected mine. Qwatekana said it was an honour to be considered for a responsibility of this magnitude. “I’ve been honoured during my career at Exxaro to have had two people willing to take a chance on me. First was Caesar Nokwe, who appointed me as Grootegeluk’s first female superintendent; and now Lazarus Ramashilabele, who has appointed me as Exxaro’s first mining manager,” she said.

In South Africa’s mining industry, just 17% of senior management is female, while that number dwindles to 16% in top management. In the commodities sector, in general, only 14% of the workforce in bigger segments such as diamonds and iron ore are women, 13% in coal, 12% in gold, while the highest employers of women (chrome, cement lime aggregate and sand) hover at just 17-18%.

Qwatekana is no stranger to patriarchy. “Often, the decisions you make get challenged,” she said. “When this happens, you have to check if they are challenging your expertise or the fact that you are a young woman.”

She explained that women empowerment meant giving women opportunities and holding them to the same standards of accountability as their male colleagues. “Women empowerment is proving, beyond doubt, that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to and knowing that the standards didn’t have to be lowered to ‘accommodate’ us,” she added.

According to Mandla Motau, people ops manager at Belfast, Exxaro is fast-tracking a lot of females through succession planning processes and ensuring that adequate support is provided to them. “We prioritise females for training opportunities such as engineering learnerships, internships and PIT programmes to create a sufficient female talent pool. For example, as a result of collaborative efforts between the BU and corporate centre, Belfast Coal achieved 22% female representation at a head of department level and 35% across all levels,” Motau said.

Qwatekana concluded, “I believe it is the responsibility of every person in a position of power to create diversity in the mining industry. We must create programmes that educate on diversity, not just the need, but the benefits of having a diverse workplace. Diversity goes beyond hiring a young black woman. It also means creating an environment where a diverse workforce can thrive.”

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