Thabile Makgala

We need to promote STEM careers to young women at primary and high school level so that they make the appropriate subject choices that will assist them to further pursue the STEM fields at tertiary level.

Country of origin

South Africa

Which company do you work for?

Implats

What is your specific area of specialisation?

Mining Engineering

How long have you been in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) fields?

20 years

As a woman in a male dominated industry, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

I encountered numerous obstacles while navigating my mining career path. As the first female mining engineering graduate at Gold Fields’ Kloof and Driefontein mines (now Sibanye Gold), I soon realised the industry had not adequately prepared itself to accept women in mining. The industry was not ready. The response to women’s needs (infrastructure, personal protective clothing and policies) was slow and very little was in place to address women’s issues. In addition, unconscious bias in the workplace remains an impediment for women to meaningfully progress in the workplace.

At an operations level, I established and chaired Women in Mining committees at the operations I worked at. If you were part of the committee, you were then able to raise the concerns women were facing and work with management at those operations to effect change. For me, the strategy has really been about involvement, encouraging change from within the operations and being an advocate for women to be heard. A strategy I continued to pursue during my two-year tenure (2019-2020) as chairperson of Women in Mining South Africa.

External support structures – such as mentorship, coaching and networking – are also crucial to adequately equip women to take on leadership roles in mining. This has assisted me along this journey.

What inspired you to join this industry?

I was very interested in engineering in general, but when I delved into the discipline of mining engineering, I realised that only a small number of women were employed in the mining industry, especially in deep-level mines. Essentially, a germ of curiosity led me to this path. I was sponsored by gold producer Gold Fields at the time, and they required a year’s worth of on-the-ground training before going to university. So, when they offered that to me, I went and worked underground for a year, which is where my passion for mining was ignited, and an awaking of the progress still required to advance the industry.

What changes, if any, have you seen with regards to women in your field?

More women joining the industry and occupying board and senior management positions.

How can we attract more women to consider a career in the STEM fields?

We need to promote STEM careers to young women at primary and high school level so that they make the appropriate subject choices that will assist them to further pursue the STEM fields at tertiary level.

If you were to advise other young women starting their careers in the tech or within the STEM fields, what is the one thing you would say to them?

In words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”

When not working, what do you do for fun?

I read and enjoy outdoor activities.

Country of origin

South Africa

Which company do you work for?

Implats

What is your specific area of specialisation?

Mining Engineering

How long have you been in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) fields?

20 years

As a woman in a male dominated industry, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

I encountered numerous obstacles while navigating my mining career path. As the first female mining engineering graduate at Gold Fields’ Kloof and Driefontein mines (now Sibanye Gold), I soon realised the industry had not adequately prepared itself to accept women in mining. The industry was not ready. The response to women’s needs (infrastructure, personal protective clothing and policies) was slow and very little was in place to address women’s issues. In addition, unconscious bias in the workplace remains an impediment for women to meaningfully progress in the workplace.

At an operations level, I established and chaired Women in Mining committees at the operations I worked at. If you were part of the committee, you were then able to raise the concerns women were facing and work with management at those operations to effect change. For me, the strategy has really been about involvement, encouraging change from within the operations and being an advocate for women to be heard. A strategy I continued to pursue during my two-year tenure (2019-2020) as chairperson of Women in Mining South Africa.

External support structures – such as mentorship, coaching and networking – are also crucial to adequately equip women to take on leadership roles in mining. This has assisted me along this journey.

What inspired you to join this industry?

I was very interested in engineering in general, but when I delved into the discipline of mining engineering, I realised that only a small number of women were employed in the mining industry, especially in deep-level mines. Essentially, a germ of curiosity led me to this path. I was sponsored by gold producer Gold Fields at the time, and they required a year’s worth of on-the-ground training before going to university. So, when they offered that to me, I went and worked underground for a year, which is where my passion for mining was ignited, and an awaking of the progress still required to advance the industry.

What changes, if any, have you seen with regards to women in your field?

More women joining the industry and occupying board and senior management positions.

How can we attract more women to consider a career in the STEM fields?

We need to promote STEM careers to young women at primary and high school level so that they make the appropriate subject choices that will assist them to further pursue the STEM fields at tertiary level.

If you were to advise other young women starting their careers in the tech or within the STEM fields, what is the one thing you would say to them?

In words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”

When not working, what do you do for fun?

I read and enjoy outdoor activities.

SOCIAL MEDIA

LinkedIn

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