Mining News continues with part two of the women in mining features. This time we speak to Tumi Selokela and Desirée Gomes from Exxaro.

Tumi Selokela
Tumi Selokela has been with Exxaro for almost two years and was appointed as an application and integration architect. She is currently fulfilling the role of a cloud CoE lead where she is responsible for executing cloud architecture projects including the migration project from on-premise to Azure cloud which includes contributing to the enterprise architecture. In addition, Selokela also oversees the optimisation of cloud and the implementing of governance for cloud.

Here is her response to questions sent to her:

How did you get started in the industry? 

I wanted to change a career from an IT service operations role to an IT service design role and when I came across an advert for Architecture role at Exxaro on LinkedIn, I did not waste time, I saw an opportunity to transition into service design. I didn’t know much about Exxaro then, except that they supply my previous company Eskom with coal. I didn’t really choose the mining industry; I chose a role and that lead me into the industry.

Getting to know women in mining: Part two
Tumi Selokela is an application and integration architect at Exxaro.
Has this always been something you’ve wanted to do? 

Working in the mining industry wasn’t really what I wanted to do, however I do not limit myself to an industry. I have always known the mining industry to be rigid, technophobia and male dominated. After joining Exxaro, I started paying more attention mining news and joined the mining networks so I can learn more about the industry. I have also learned that there’s a lot that the industry is doing to support women in mining and to digitally transform the industry. Now that I am here, I don’t want to leave the industry, I feel I have so much to offer Exxaro and the industry as a whole; contribute towards making transformational changes, for the betterment of our company, our country and the society as a whole.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career so far?

I found that as much as the industry is transforming, it does not take many women along. Young women are introduced into the industry and they don’t stay long because they don’t feel they can be themselves and still contribute towards critical business decisions. When I started in the company, my character was not welcomed, as it was deemed too feminine for the industry because of my looks and behaviour. My femininity made a lot to question my skills and abilities. Although I am feminine, I also have a strong and confident character which often surprises many, mostly men. I must often work really hard to be noticed or even be given a chance to contribute towards departmental decisions. I keep pushing and sometimes too hard, but it is what makes a little difference for me. Things are not given for women, they are taken.

Do you think these challenges had anything to do with the fact that you are a woman?

Absolutely, women in corporates are usually very supportive and they build a culture of a learning organisation. We tend to nurture those around us, we multi-task and always try to build a supportive structure for everyone involved and give assistance towards achieving goals. In an environment where it is male dominated, it is difficult to find that, the culture turns to be harsh and there’s lack of structure and everyone is on their own, most women find it hard to survive in such an environment.

How did you overcome such challenges?

I refused to accept the situation and promote that culture; I keep questioning things; I challenge the status quo. I try to build structure where required and I create a supportive and learning environment for those that work closely with me. I have not completely overcome these challenges, but I have learned to work around them while I slowly use my influence to change the environment.

What motivated you to keep going in difficult times? 

My life purpose of wanting to make a difference wherever I am. I am determined to contribute towards change, and I know over time things do change; even if it’s not for me to benefit but for those that will come after me to benefit. I strongly believe that people learn best when they are supported, and growth comes from learning.

How are you received by your male colleagues?

Mostly not well but it changes over time (through a few engagements/conversations). The more I work with them the more they get to know me and my ways of work which it is eventually appreciated.

What is your view on female representation in the mining industry in South Africa currently?

 Women are still not well represented in mining, especially in leadership roles. There’s a lot to be done and for those women that are already in leadership roles, I challenge them to do more to ensure that year by year we see a significant difference. 

What do you think needs to change to create more opportunities for women in the industry?

Women are most likely to be in an industry that allows them to be who they are. For me Mining doesn’t allow us to be. The fact that it is male dominant makes it even more difficult. Some of the changes required are to not only to appoint more females but to work towards keeping them once appointed. Having enough female representation & contribution in critical forums, committees and leadership roles will create the change we need.

What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to pursue a similar career path as you?

I would advise them to follow their heart and not to limit their potential. Every path taken has challenges however it is within those challenges where you learn the most. I have grown beyond my expectations in this industry, both professionally and personally. I didn’t let rejection, fear and doubt give up on my dreams.

Is there anything you would like to add?

The mining industry in South Africa is big enough for the women in this country; it requires only a few to take a step and defy the odds to pave way for others. I like the quote by Maya Angelou that says, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women”. I promise to stand up for myself, not only for me but for all women.

Desirée Gomes
Desirée Gomes is a senior civil engineer at Exxaro’s Matla coal mine. Her job entails managing projects and supporting the relevant stakeholders from a civil engineering perspective.

She responded to the questions as follows:

How did you start out in the industry? 

I grew up in the small mining town called Kriel where my parents and friends’ parents either worked at one of the surrounding mines or the power stations. During matric, I was fortunate enough to obtain a bursary from Exxaro at the time to study a BEng degree in civil engineering.

Getting to know women in mining: Part two
Desirée Gomes is a senior civil engineer at Exxaro’s Matla coal mine.
Was this always been something you’ve wanted to do?

In a way, yes. I have always been keen to solve problems and see the physical result of the solution come to life on site. I never thought I’d enjoy the people part of my job so much, but it’s the part that makes coming to work enjoyable.

What challenges have you faced in your career so far?

As a woman, I tend to not only think differently but also view things differently to the rest of the men in my team. It is great since all aspects of a problem get covered. Some men tend to resist my opinion in the beginning, especially when it’s the first time working together.

Do you think these challenges were unique to you as a woman?

Most engineers in the mining industry are still men, so yes it, definitely contributes to the challenge but it also gives me an opportunity to think outside of the box and adapt my approach to include my colleagues and consider their contributions.

What did you do to overcome the challenges?

By not giving up or backing down and by learning to not take things that get said personally.

What is your view on female representation in the mining industry in South Africa currently?

The representation of women is growing, and women are being included in decision making more and more.

What do you think needs to change to create more opportunities for women in the industry?

The biggest challenge for women, I think, is having to balance the working and travelling hours with the running of a household and kids at the same time. If the mines could assist mothers more, more women would consider the mining industry as a possibly career path. Whether it be through a day care centre close to the site or more flexible working hours.

What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to pursue a similar career path as you?

Don’t be afraid to challenge society’s way of thinking. Be who you feel you were destined to be. Work hard and always be willing to try.

Click to read Getting to know women in mining: Part one

Want to read more about women in mining? Read Inside Mining’s Women in Mining SIP.

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