My Blueprint for Women Navigating a Career in the Mining Industry-by Thabile Nkomo

women in mining, mining industry career

My Blueprint for Women Navigating a Career in the Mining Industry-by Thabile Nkomo

Navigating a career in the mining industry as a woman is no easy task. We’re constantly facing barriers that require resilience and determination to overcome. Even though there is a global quest for workplaces to champion inclusivity, diversity, and equality, we still often find ourselves addressed as “gents” in the boardrooms.

According to McKinsey research, women represent only 8-17% of its workforce. To put these stats into perspective, in a shift team of 30 employees, we can expect no more than two or three females, and in a leadership team of 10 people, we expect only one female.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope – the CEOs of mining giants like Exxaro Resources, Kumba Iron Ore, and Anglo-American Amplats are powerful women.

So, change is happening.  But we can’t afford to sit back and wait. We need to be intentional and strategic in navigating our careers. 

My first experience with gender discrimination

I experienced my first real gender discrimination incident when I was a young graduate. This opened my eyes to the challenges we face as women in the mining industry. I was working in plants and production and thought I was destined to have a career in this area.

When a gap opened for an acting shift supervisor, I knew I was perfect for the role.  But the person who I thought was championing my career has other ideas. “You know I would give you this opportunity to act, but the culture of the men here is such that they won’t listen to a woman,” he said.

At the time, I was crushed. But, looking back, I am grateful for the growth and lessons that came from that rejection. This blog explores the four pillars that have been the foundation of my journey since then – and I hope they can serve as a blueprint for the women who follow me.

Pillar 1: Mapping Out Your Career

After experiencing such discrimination, I realised that I needed to own my career, and for that, I needed a plan. On reflection about the opportunity I was denied, I discovered that I didn’t even enjoy plant work. I was, however, passionate about project management.

With that knowledge, I forged a path that led me to the Capital Projects team. My advice, if you’re entering the industry, is to find out what you enjoy and then look for every opportunity to move in that direction.

A career plan is crucial; it propels you forward despite the obstacles, giving you the strength to rise with every fall. Take charge—don’t wait for others to determine your trajectory.

Pillar 2: Courage

The second pillar is courage. Courage means finding your voice and being resilient – both vital in an industry that challenges us at every turn.

We founded Tshepa Basadi on boldness. We intentionally chose a name that exudes strength, challenging stereotypes in a male-dominated field.

Let courage be the force that propels you to not only find a seat at the table – lean in and sit at the head of the table.

Pillar 3: Hone Your Skill

I needed a PMP accreditation to be taken seriously as a project manager – and I was willing to do whatever it took to get it – even writing and passing my three-hour PMP exam when I was eight months pregnant.

Once you know where you want to go, invest in yourself; do whatever it takes to become so proficient in your field that no one can fault you and, in this way, deny you the career you deserve.

Even though Tshepa Basadi was brand new and had no references, our first client, UMK, trusted us because, as individuals, we were experienced, successful project managers.

Pillar 4: Do Not Give Up

The fourth and perhaps most crucial pillar is simple: do not give up. In the face of challenges, resilience becomes your greatest asset. I cannot tell you the number of sales pitches we have done that didn’t materialise.  Resilience is what kept us going back, knocking on doors, and resilience is what has brought us to where we are today. Each setback is a setup for a comeback.

It’s up to you and me

We have the power to redefine the narrative, and our collective strength lies in supporting one another. The industry is changing, and it is up to us to lead the change. Let’s make it easier for the next generation of women in mining.

It’s a challenging journey, but with perseverance, we’re creating new routes and contributing to breaking down gender barriers in this industry, ultimately making the road easier for the women who follow us.

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