This webinar was hosted by the Mail & Guardian and Richard’s Bay Minerals. It featured Georgie Bezette, HR Executive, Rio Tinto; Thobile Dlamini, Health, Safety and Environment Business Partner; Pam Pereira, Finance Business Partner and former Women in Mining Chair, who last year left for Canada — Rio Tinto; and Bayanda Mncwango, RBM Chief Operating Officer, Operations. It was facilitated by Cathy Mohlahlana, Senior Anchor for Newzroom Afrika.
Women are more vulnerable than ever before, said Cathy Mohlahlana in her introductory speech, and, if you look at the stats, the world still doesn’t believe that women can lead.
Georgie Bezette said there is a culture of care at RBM, but there is a “long way to go” for gender equality to happen in the mining industry. Thobile Dlamini said she has been at RBM for 19 years and is now in the executive team; she spoke highly of the company and the mentoring she has received. Pam Pereira said she is a mother and said she had in the past many worries about balancing her career with her family duties. Bayanda Mncwango said his mother used to come home from work with stories that shocked him, and he wants to make the workplace a better place for women, and for his daughter’s sake. He spoke about “breaking glass ceilings and walls” for women in the workplace.
Bezette said the mining industry has been historically dominated by men, so it takes a lot of effort and resilience for women to enter it and claim their space there. She was a bit of a lone voice when she first joined, which Pereira concurred upon. Pereira said she derived strength from her female colleagues, and tries to be strong for others in turn. She mentioned that during lockdown the PPE was designed for men, and was very uncomfortable for women, especially pregnant women. “The journey to equality has begun, but there is still a long way to go,” said Pereira.
Dlamini said starting out at RBM was really challenging, not just as a woman, but as a black woman, where most black women were cleaners; she had to work extremely hard to raise herself above her circumstances; some colleagues said she wouldn’t last long, “but these challenges just made me stronger”.
A poll conducted with those listening to the webinar reflected that 75% of attendees believed that there has been progress made in the mining industry regarding gender equality. Another poll carried out later in the webinar showed that 61% of attendees believe that women are afforded equal opportunities in the Rio Tinto group.
Mncwango said that clearly not enough had been done, after listening to the women panellists and how hard they had to work to get anywhere in the mining industry. He said the leadership at RBM has transformed, and this is reflected in the comments they make about women.
Responding to questions, Bezette said that RBM is an equal opportunity company; it does have a pregnancy leave policy; and it has a support strategy for GBV victims, but a culture of coming forward must still be created and encouraged. Mncwango said there is priority given to local, women-owned businesses in tender processes by RBM.
Pereira said the countries with the best gender equality statistics are those run by women. It’s not been easy to be a woman leader; men have had to change their mind-sets regarding her, and this took a lot of courage. She encouraged other women to believe in themselves, raise their hands, speak out and make their voices heard: male leaders have to ensure that women are comfortable to do so. Mncwango pointed out that diversity is what makes companies successful. He said there are programmes at RBM to recruit and retain female employees.
Dlamini said balancing kids and career requires a strong support system, and she’s been fortunate that she has that in her family; it is important to define what is expected from her and those around her clearly, so communication is vital. Bezette said you have to plan your time carefully and set your boundaries firmly. Lockdown changed her perceptions a lot, and connected her to her purpose more firmly, which Mohlahlana agreed with; she said it has made many things more clear. Pereira said that prioritising is essential: family and health must come first, and working long hours has to be fitted around that. She added that her family has been extremely supportive and her faith has helped her.
Mncwango said the Women to Women programme at RBM is aimed at middle management and its effects will filter down to all levels. Pereira said programmes like Women in Mining ensure women’s voices are heard, and such programmes make an impact on the communities around the mine. Dlamini said the recruitment programmes are working; more women are working in the mining industry and more are becoming skilled and getting promoted; this exposure is vital, as you won’t know if you enjoy or can handle the industry unless you get the opportunity to work in it.
Questions were asked by attendees on the issue of whether women are strong enough to be in production. Mncwango said there are traditional beliefs around this, but as more women enter this space, so these beliefs are changing, and the environment needs to be made safe for all workers, regardless of their gender. Leadership is very important in this regard.
Regarding working online during lockdown, the old school way of working is changing, and there is far more trust; employees are judged on their output, and this may benefit women, said Bezette, as it will enable people to know what their boundaries are and when they work most productively. This is despite having to do housework and look after the kids, as she is saving two hours a day on commuting. Pereira said this is not necessarily true for all: for some, lockdown has been a complete nightmare. Leaders will have to be astute about this, pointed out Dlamini, as some employees are struggling, and employers have to pick up on this and assist where they can: some people just suffer in silence.
Mncwango said that volunteering more personal information is being encouraged, so that people can share the challenges they are facing. This is countering the old macho values that “everyone can always cope”. Creating a safe space for people to share is essential, said Bezette. Pereira said leaders are starting to open up to gender equality and changing their mind-sets; she has really enjoyed being in the Women in Mining committee, as it is breaking new ground.
In their closing remarks, Bezette said women are their greatest enemies or their greatest advocates; forums are essential and women must speak up to make their issues known. We have the ability to make a difference, said Pereira; start with your families and take it to the workplace. Dlamini said that women need to support each other; “we understand each other, and we know how to assist each other; we also need to inspire each other and encourage each other”. Mncwango said it is important for men to create environments in which women can succeed; and women who are in leadership positions must retain their femininity and not try to emulate their male colleagues.
One noteworthy remark from the audience was that if one woman makes it into the boardroom, she should try to bring other women into it.
Click here to watch the webinar: https://event.webinarjam.com/t/click/2zwr8hzkh5xu0rip2qmsor7c74pc0