Common agenda needed to better address gender inequality

Women in Business_ How to grow the role and presence of women in South African business

17th August 2023

By: Tracy Hancock

Creamer Media Contributing Editor


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While working conditions for women have improved greatly compared with those of the previous generation, gender inequality is still a considerable issue locally and needs to be tackled uniformly by corporate South Africa.

A panel of influential women leaders discussed the topic of gender equality in South Africa this Women's Month during Creamer Media’s Women in Business webinar on Wednesday, facilitated by Sedibelo Resources chief environmental, social and governance (ESG) officer Lael Bethlehem.

“We need role models and leaders who are going to influence and change the culture of their organisations. When we say safety is critical in our organisations, we are not just talking about safe working practices but also gender safety,” said Minerals Council South Africa president Nolitha Fakude.

Notably, she highlighted that the Minerals Council’s sixth National Day of Health and Safety, celebrated today, included, for the first time, issues such as harassment, gender-based violence and other problems that made women feel unsafe at work.

The day was also an opportunity to call on the mining industry to align its interventions and initiatives to have a greater impact, added Fakude.

Women in Mining South Africa chairperson Raksha Naidoo emphasised the need to create a safe working environment to grow the number of women in the mining industry.

“We have a duty to create a safe working environment for women to thrive in. While we are getting better, we still have a long way to go. But it's about what we all do together collaboratively to make that change.”

Bethlehem noted that the Women in Mining Leadership Forum, a gathering of male and female leaders in the mining industry, in which most CEOs are men, was a real learning and growing experience for men in the industry.

It gave them the opportunity to think about what it felt like to feel unsafe at work, not because of rockfalls, but because “you don’t know if you are going to be harassed or attacked by your colleagues”.

“We need suitable personal protective equipment, but we also need an environment in which women do not fear their colleagues,” stated Bethlehem.

While a lot was being done to attract women to male-dominated disciplines, one attendee highlighted that once these women were a part of the industry, they were not given the necessary support and were exposed to harmful and predatory practices.

Bethlehem said this called into question the culture in workplaces, particularly the culture of the mining industry.

“How do we transform, not only at the level of committees and of CEOs, but the daily lived culture of our industry in relation to sexual harassment, predatory practices, racism and bullying,” she asked.

Leaders needed to focus on three areas of intervention – ensuring that the social pillar in an ESG strategy is dealt with appropriately by everyone in a business; unconscious bias training to transform culture, and compliance with the relevant regulatory framework, said Fakude.

“Addressing the struggle against gender-based violence in the workplace is not a ‘nice to have’ but the responsibility of employers to provide an environment free of violence and intimidation. These are very serious legal and regulatory requirements and speak to our own ethics,” added Bethlehem. 

Metskill MD Rebecca Sands noted that there was tremendous growth in the number of black women in metallurgy.

“A lot of bright young minds are not only coming out of university, but also at the operator level; learning the job from grass roots level and building up their practical skills.”

Sands said the discussion facilitated by Creamer Media’s webinar had highlighted that the creation of a safe space in the workplace for women needed to become part of daily discussions and the need to revisit Metskill’s training material.

Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone CFO Simangele Mvelase noted that the organisation had set aside budget to support women-owned, especially black women-owned, businesses because “we understand the challenges that are faced by women in business and want to extend our support”.

“We are targeting women-owned businesses to extend and ensure that there are opportunities for women to participate in the economy.

“We identify those gaps where women can play a role. We are in spaces where we can contribute and be influential, so let’s use those spaces to fill those gaps.”

Naidoo added that it was one of the most exciting times to be a women in mining because “we are at the forefront of making real, tangible change”.

Joining the mining industry 20 years ago, Naidoo said she struggled to find female leaders to lean on and learn from, but now there were increasingly more female leaders in the sector than ever before.

“As a CEO of an organisation, my entire purpose is to make equality a part of our DNA. The ceiling is there, and whether it be based on historical legacy issues or unconscious biases, it can be broken.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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