Mining: Women's Participation

Women often miss out on the benefits of the oil, gas, and mining industries but bear an unequal share of their burdens. Unemployment for women in mining communities can run as high as 90 percent. At the same time, the environmental and social risks of mining tend to fall upon women through the loss of productive agricultural land, marginalization, and  an increase in health risks, including  HIV/AIDS.

But it need not always be this way. As in many other industries, there is a growing business case for increasing women’s role in mining. There is emerging evidence from several countries that integrating women into the work force leads to an increase in productivity, efficiency, profitability, and reliability for mining companies. “I now have money in the bank and am able to send my children to a good school,” says Violet Pholose of South Africa. These are words that all parents dream to say, but they are a reality for Violet, a plant attendant at IFC mining client Lonmin Platinum. She is one of its 1,840 women workers, now holding one of  the well-paying and stable jobs that mining provides other people around the world. In 2007 IFC began providing advisory services to Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, helping it strengthen the socioeconomic development of rural mining communities in South Africa. This support came as part of a $150 million IFC financing package for the firm. A key goal was developing new policies to help Lonmin recruit more female workers, then:

  • Undertake an employment equity review

  • Develop gender-related policies and procedures

  • Introduce systems for the sustainable recruitment and retention of women

  • Provide gender mainstreaming–related staff training

Lonmin’s number of women employees has grown by 42 percent since 2007—representing 483 new women’s. jobs that create an important new career path in South Africa. The firm has also made women employment targets part of  its line managers’ performance objectives and created new policies and procedures in several areas, including sexual harassment grievances. 

To help communicate the results widely to other firms, Lonmin and IFC produced a free manual based on the program that has been distributed through CommDev, a funding mechanism for practical capacity building, training, technical and implementation support, awareness-raising, and tool development managed in partnership with Norway. 

Mining companies have seen improved safety and decreased absenteeism after hiring women, but the real test will be to prove the business case for increased female participation in mining over the long run.  The next step for us at IFC is to apply what we learned working with Lonmin and help other companies see the value in increasing women in their work force.