Many of us dream of a world in which girls are given as many opportunities as boys: opportunities to attend school, to stay in school, to be educated to the same standards and, ultimately, to fulfil their potential. But even with equal access to education, there’s a long way to go in global terms until professional opportunities are no longer constrained by gender – and progress is being measured in increments, not leaps and bounds.

Slowly but surely, Kagem Mining Limited is proving that a far greater level of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is possible and, with real commitment, we can turn gender stereotypes on their head.

This is a story about how two of Kagem’s 14 female heavy-duty equipment operators made their way into a male-dominated role. But it’s also a story about how, when women do inspiring and courageous things, they inspire other women to achieve the unthinkable.

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One ordinary summer’s day, Beatrice was on her way home from her relatively ordinary job at a popular restaurant chain in Solwezi when she saw a grader (a heavy-duty piece of equipment for creating smooth, flat surfaces) making its way down the road. They’re powerful machines – over ten feet tall, weighing well over 10,000 kilograms – and, when she took a second glance, she saw that it was being operated by a woman.

Something about seeing a female operator manoeuvring such powerful equipment lit Beatrice up, and she simply had to know more. She approached the woman, asking how she got into this unlikely job, and what it was like to operate an enormous vehicle like that. Beatrice’s passion was sparked and, thanks to her curiosity and this stranger’s generosity of spirit, she walked away with new information – and an entirely new perspective.

Something about seeing a female operator manoeuvring such powerful equipment lit Beatrice up, and she simply had to know more.

“That’s how I first became interested in becoming a heavy-duty operator,” says Beatrice, speaking from an office at Kagem, where she works today. The woman became a mentor of sorts and, before long, Beatrice had enrolled at Pascal Operators Training Institute in Copperbelt Province to learn how to operate heavy duty equipment.

Meanwhile in Ndola, Betty – another of Kagem’s future female operators – was also contemplating a change in career. “I first got inspired to become a heavy-duty operator from a lady who used to play traditional music,” explains Betty. “One day, my sister met this musician – but she wasn’t playing music at the time, she was operating an excavator! I contacted her and asked where she had learned to operate machines like that. She said she went to Kitwe Institute of Applied Sciences and Heavy Equipment Operators, so I got more information and decided I would also go there for training.”

Working (more than) 9 to 5

Beatrice completed her training and convinced her boss to let her take up a part-time job as a heavy-duty equipment operator so she could gain some experience. She found a job at Dangote Cement, operating an articulated dump truck (ADT), a type of heavy-duty truck used to transport loads over rough terrain.

Betty found a job, too. “Often when dump trucks are involved, you need spotters: people who give signals and directions to operators,” she explains. “After I completed my training, I worked as a spotter at Chambishi Metals. From there, I saw a social media post advertising openings for female heavy-duty operators at Kagem, and that’s how I was given this chance.”

Beatrice saw the exact same job ad. “The advert said that Kagem Mining wanted female operators to join the company so that the workforce could be more balanced in terms of gender,” says Beatrice. “Years ago, Kagem employed females to work in offices or other departments – but not in the mining pit. Betty and I were interviewed on the same day, and that’s how we both found ourselves reporting for work on 17 August 2022 as articulated dump truck (ADT) operators.”

Kagem Mining's 11 female truck operators

Striding towards gender equality

As Beatrice and Betty – two of Kagem’s very first female operators – started an exciting new chapter in their lives, so the company moved a little closer towards its ambition of creating more inclusive opportunities, and diversifying its workforce.

Since then, Kagem has continued its efforts to support women in following their passion, and take up roles in the mining sector that were previously reserved for men. Betty and Beatrice have been joined by several more recruits, to make up a total of 14 in this role. And the mining company doesn’t plan to stop at 14.

As the mine’s General Manager Adriaan Prinsloo put it: “Kagem aims to not only promote gender equality, but also to demonstrate our commitment to striving to provide equal opportunities for all. Having more women as heavy machinery operators further diversifies our workforce and brings a fresh perspective to our operations.”

““The job opportunities that Kagem is offering women with the right qualifications – which we were previously excluded from – is giving females a real morale boost,” says Betty.”

 

Fresh perspectives on a so-called “man’s job”

One of Beatrice’s favourite things about her job is the feeling it gives her. “Seeing myself operating heavy machinery makes me feel proud of myself – because I’m doing ‘a man’s job’.” Beatrice’s family were very supportive of her career move from the beginning, she says, and naturally they’re very proud of her too.

Betty agrees: “This used to be treated like a man’s field, or a man’s job. So, when people hear that us women are going out and operating this heavy equipment, we are instantly respected,” she says, smiling broadly.

“The job opportunities that Kagem is offering women with the right qualifications – which we were previously excluded from – is giving females a real morale boost,” says Betty.

“But what I like most about being a female operator is giving inspiration to other women out there. It’s like I’m giving people – in my compound, in my family, and among my friends – hope,” she smiles. “As a woman, you can do anything, as long as you believe it.”

There’s no question: Putting gender diversity into action involves risk-taking, and requires progressive companies like Kagem to help drive the agenda. But the other equally important ingredient is women who are willing to take a leap into the unknown and, crucially, the women and men in their corner, cheering them on.

 

See also: Powering education in rural Zambia, together

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is is very inspiring for me. Betty and Beatrice job well done 👍. I am a safety officer myself by professiona, but this after reading this I am looking forward to operate a dumptruck myself in future, and be among female best operators in the mining Industry.

    Kagem Mining you are doing a good job in promoting gender equality in Zambia. Mr. Adriana Prinsloo well done.

    Looking forward to working there too soon in my field of professional.

  2. This is really good , I love such inspiring stories about women working in mining industries and it’s always my prayer to find myself there one day …

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