Glencore International Women's Day
Paying it forward
Vicky Van Schalkwyk, Surface Operations Manager at Glencore’s iMpunzi plant, has enjoyed an inspiring career to date. She shares some of the beliefs that got her to the top.
Briefly tell us what your role as Surface Operations Manager entails?
Safe coal is our main objective at Glencore coal. My role is to ensure that my team operates the plant efficiently, while maintaining operational excellence. Operational excellence can be defined as safety management, achieving production volumes, daily product and yield management, whilst we achieve product specifications for each of our customers. Feasibility studies and life of mine projects also form part of our job portfolio. To be a good leader you need to be visionary and forward thinking.
What career advice would you offer your younger self?
Personal success is driven by your own willingness to succeed. Be open to constant change to allow personal growth. Education is the only way to break poverty cycles within families and communities. I grew up really poor, but young as I was, I decided to focus my efforts on achieving good marks. This taught myself that resilience prepares us for various life stages, and that growth is achieved by pushing boundaries and learning from our mistakes.
In professional spaces, what traits would you like women to bring to the table — especially in mining?
I would love to see more women own their voices and trust that their opinions add value. The onus is on us women to bring about the changes required to debunk those stereotypes within the workplace. Work hard and don’t let fear limit you. I would also love to see more women step out of their comfort zones and embrace challenging tasks.
What role did mentorship play in your career growth?
Mentorship provided me with an external perspective that, in turn, helped me view and approach career challenges from different perspectives. I learned that without role models to influence our career paths, we would not be able to achieve success. It is of equal importance to become a mentor for young females entering the mine. Investing time in developing others is rewarding. Be the change you want to see.
What are some of the commonly held stereotypes about women in mining — and what role have you played in challenging them?
Compared to other companies, Glencore has advanced significantly in developing women and creating opportunities for them. Stereotypes such as ‘She won’t be able to perform that task’ or ‘She won’t be as competent as her male counterparts’ are still prevalent. In the past 17 years, I have selflessly dedicated time to developing female graduates and candidates from previously disadvantaged backgrounds during their on-job-the training.
In your opinion, how would an inclusive, fair and non-discriminatory workplace — or society — look like?
We first need to rectify the education system. Various fields of study still need to be reflective of the demographics in our society. This will allow us to have diverse candidates with more or less the same technical skills and knowledge base. That said, the first point of departure would be to rectify the poor Mathematics and Science results at school level as this will open the doors to different fields within science. Access to technology remains the biggest hindrance that prevents students from accessing additional educational material, and therefore needs to be corrected. Lastly, I would love to see more companies employ a balanced recruitment strategy based on merit — and one that closes whatever crucial gaps identified within the organisation.
What role do you play in ensuring that bias, stereotypes and discrimination won’t affect the next generation of female mining professionals?
I am passionate about mentoring and coaching young females with the aim of preparing them for their next big roles and leaving them confident to tackle whatever career challenges they encounter. I do this through one-on-one sessions tailored around exposing them to diverse working environments and personality types.