INTERVIEW: Georgette Barnes, President, Women in Mining Ghana
Can you give a brief overview of Women In Mining (WIM) and your experience as the organization’s president?
Women in Mining (WIM) Ghana is an organization for women who work within the value chain of the mining sector, from upstream to downstream. Any women working in the mining industry can join our organization.
We started informally in 2012 when a few of us women would get together for discussions, and subsequently we initiated social media groups and began gaining traction. WIM Ghana was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in 2015 primarily to serve as an advocacy body for all women working in the mining sector – across the industry, academia and government. We offer training, mentorship and networking, and we do research projects relevant to our objectives.
We realized that there are not enough women working in the mining industry, and our main objective is thus to look at how we can attract more women to the industry and retain those already working there. We also find that not enough women are in executive and managerial positions in the industry, and so we continue to seek ways to address that imbalance as well because it influences what happens at the lower levels of organizations in the industry.
WIM is a volunteer-based organization, and currently we do not have any funding beyond minimal annual fees paid by members. Depending on planned activities, we try to raise funding, but it has been a challenge. Some of our key activities are mentoring and creating awareness of opportunities in the sector. We try to find ways to reach out to as many young ladies as possible as our objective is to share information and inform women about job opportunities in mining. Ghana has a significant amount of talent and skilled labor, but somehow women have not been able to take advantage of the careers available in the extractive industries.
We have created a WhatsApp group where we share industry information from West Africa and the wider African continent, as well as trends occurring around the rest of the world. We want to create awareness and empower women with knowledge, and so we use the WhatsApp group as a channel for learning. We have regular online presentations within the group where we discuss subjects including leadership, sexual harassment, the gender pay gap phenomenon, future work force and change management. This interactive platform gives us shared access to expert information.
WIM Ghana aspires to be a leading network that promotes the advancement of women in the natural resources sector for the transformation of local communities in Ghana and the rest of the region and continent through partnerships with similar organizations elsewhere.
Has WIM approached the Minerals Commission for financial sponsorship?
A few years ago, WIM Ghana lobbied the Minerals Commission, and as a result they established a gender desk that supports our agenda and mission. We are in discussions with the Minerals Commission to see how some of our programs can be routed through them. I believe that the gender desk, established in the last quarter of 2019, will complement our work.
What do you believe demotivates women from pursuing a career in mining?
Mining on a global stage is very male orientated, and there are significant cultural myths about working in mines. Parents tend to advise their daughters not to choose a career in mining because it is perceived as an industry not suited for women.
Additionally, unconscious bias seems to hold girls back from studying science and technology, and this also limits the number of women in the pipeline for careers in mining. As of last year, 16% of the students of UMAT (University of Mines and Technology) were female, a number that used to be much lower. It has risen due to the university taking affirmative action.
It is all very ironic because historically, African women have been part of the mining industry, and we want to eliminate any cultural myths that a career in mining is not suitable for women. Women can be and indeed have been leaders, and we want to encourage and empower them to take their rightful place again.
A research study revealed that profit margins tend to be higher for companies with more women as board members. Why do you believe that there is a correlation between profit margins and women in executive positions?
This could be due to the fact that women might see things differently than men. They are more likely to bring different perspectives and ways of thinking to the boardroom that ultimately impact the bottom line. A board is richer when it is gender-sensitive; that sensitivity is likely to permeate the entire organization. In the 21st century, it’s simply the right thing to do; clients and customers recognize this and tend to be supportive of corporate institutions who respect women, the vulnerable and minorities.
Can you give some insights into Georgette Barnes Ltd?
I founded Georgette Barnes Ltd in 2009. We are as a service-oriented mine support company that specializes in products and consumables for the mining, exploration and drilling businesses. We are strongest in West Africa, but we know Africa very well and the world is discovering what we have to offer. Nonetheless, the environment is highly competitive. Regulatory barriers around import regulations can be daunting, especially when competing with foreign suppliers. However, I believe businesses such as Georgette Barnes still have a role to play in Ghana’s economy. We intend to play our part in building the new extractives industry in West Africa.
Do you have a final message for our international readership?
WIM Ghana is a force to be reckoned with. We are a strong organization that is going to make a difference in the region. We are now an Associate Member of the Chamber of Mines, and collaboratively we are looking for ways to make careers and businesses in formal mining more attractive to women.