Investing In African Mining Indaba

An interview with Nonkululeko Hope Dire, Committee member of Women in Mining SA

Nonkululeko Hope Dire is a qualified geologist in the mining engineering sphere (blasting). She specialises in blast optimisation projects including the use of advanced blasting technology and has worked with various mines around South Africa.

She recently got appointed as an Explosives Engineer for AEL Intelligent Blasting which is a global supplier of explosives. Her role as an Explosives Engineer involves leading a team of technical officers and customer liaison which includes providing technical expertise.

Additionally, she serves as a committee member of Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) under the mentorship portfolio.

What motivated you to get involved with Women in Mining SA?

I discovered WiMSA in 2014 when I was still in the foundation stage of my career. Prior to that, I did not have a mentor to guide me through my career which made it challenging. I then actively participated in the WiMSA networking events which included the Mentors Manor (mentoring platform).

These networking events gave me an opportunity to have thought-provoking and insightful conversations with other women who have walked the path and earned the stripes in the mining industry. The wisdom and guidance I gained during these encounters encouraged me to keep pursuing my career in the industry. I was even able to deal with the criticism that comes with being a young woman in the mining industry.

At the end of 2016, I was given an opportunity to form part of the committee of WiMSA under the mentorship portfolio. This portfolio allowed me to encourage other women and help emphasise the importance of mentorship for women in mining. I am an outspoken person and enjoy having uplifting conversations with other women working in the industry. I am also well known for my vibrant energy and positive aura which I bring to a place. I am able to give hope to women who want to pursue careers and businesses in mining. My experiences in industry serve as an example to other young women that it is possible and to always look at the ultimate goal.

What challenges have you encountered in your career so far as a female mining engineer?

  • People were intimidated by my strong personality which made me grab opportunities usually overlooked by others. These people would even go to the extent of withholding information from me.
  • Involved in projects only when my technical expertise is needed and not given the recognition at the end of the project.
  • Other women shutting down the doors of opportunity- hence the slow rate of women progressing in the industry makes it a very competitive environment.
  • Being overlooked especially when making critical decisions in the workplace since I am young and a woman which is considered as a liability.
  • Dealing with the criticism of being incapable because I am a woman which sometimes made me want to leave the industry.
  • Having to constantly defend why women are also important in the mining industry. Trying to change the mindset of a patriarchal society.
  • Slower career progression relative to other male counterparts I started with.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about women in mining?

  • Women are too soft/weak therefore will not be able to lead teams.
  • The mining production environment is not suitable for women. Women are better suited for administrative and some technical roles.
  • You are too pretty or too lady-like to be in the mining industry.
  • Women are not capable of climbing the ranks through merit and they need to have offered sexual favours in order to succeed.
  • Women in management roles are just a face to show that the industry is diversifying, they do not have decision making powers.
  • Women are a distraction to men in the workplace and slow down production.
  • Women are not reliable or cannot be counted on since they always fall pregnant and are away from production for too long.
  • Women are lazy and not physically strong so will struggle to work in the mining industry, especially underground.
  • Women know nothing about mining, they are here because the industry is forcing diversity.
  • Women do not work, there is always a man doing their work in the background.

What needs to change in order to make the industry more accessible to women?

The negative mindset about women needs to be changed since women are as capable as men are. The mining industry is like any other business that needs to make a profit. It does not matter who does the work as long as it gets done. The mining industry drives many economies around the world. More and more women need to join this industry and contribute to achieving the goal of mining effectively and efficiently.

Women who want to join the industry should go for it and never let anything or anyone tell them otherwise. Women should not be overlooked as they have been in the past and the following initiatives should be driven:
  • Attracting women during the time when they make career choices which is usually at high school. As described in today’s terms: “make mining fashionable/trendy for women”.
  • Offer more bursaries/sponsorship for mining-related courses to female students at tertiary studies.
  • Have procedures which drive female empowerment in the mining industry and have penalties when these procedures are not followed.
  • Use technology efficiently in mining to eliminate the limiting factors (i.e. physical strength) to operate some equipment.

What can mining companies do to support their female employees?

  • Drive female empowerment and mentoring initiatives like WiMSA
  • Form collaborations with other mining companies in order to understand and track female empowerment initiatives. The mining companies should hold each other accountable.
  • Offer leadership training/ programmes to more women.
  • Celebrate women who have done well in the industry to encourage the other upcoming ladies in the industry.
  • Accommodate women with regards to PPE and ablution facilities.
  • Have flexible programmes which will offer support to women who fall pregnant since the industry perceives pregnancy as career limiting.
  • Have more women in management positions (including executive level) because what better people to drive female empowerment than women who understand how critical it is.
  • Mentor or coach our male counterparts about the importance of women in the industry and how beneficial it is.

Women in Mining South Africa are an event partner of the 2019 Mining Indaba, as part of a pledge to support the intiative through securing more top female speakers for the agenda. Register to attend the event to learn more about driving gender inclusivity in the industry.