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By Louisa Rampet

Mining has a reputation for being rough, remote and dangerous, as well as being one of the most male-dominated industries in the world.

This is true for Malini Saba, CEO of Saba Industries, whose mining journey started at the age of 30 when she decided to invest heavily in the commodity space. She began at ground zero.

She has built a thriving business and now owns over 7 large Mines internationally.  Her company owns mines that produce Iron ore, gold and Bauxite.

Malini says “Women must challenge their own comfort and realize the possibilities this environment has to offer, and attitudes of both males and females needs to be shaped by the pioneers in the environment.”

She also feels that young girls should be encouraged to pursue math, science and engineering subjects.  Furthermore, she feels that education in schools and universities surrounding the “exciting career opportunities that await women in the mining industry” should be improved.

I went on to ask her further questions about her role and experience.

Q : What have you enjoyed most about your role in the industry?

Malini Saba : I have spent more than fifteen years  in the mining industry and have seen significant changes and challenges. Being an owner and executive has its challenges. I have dealt with building new mining projects and running operations in countries that are not mining friendly, or are politically unstable or under high risk of executive kidnappings.

I have seen natural disasters such as floods, to earthquakes and malaria.  I’ve witnessed labor unrest and strikes in some of our Asian countries, with the invasion of our mining pits by hundreds of illegal miners. So, the role has never been boring and has always stretched me.

Q : What do you consider the most successful aspect of your mining leadership to date?

Malini Saba : I was part of a team that supported and coached an executive team through a significant organizational crisis a couple of years ago. Our team took the company through a huge expansion phase for a few years on the back of a very favorable commodity rise. We were faced with huge skills shortages at a time when many companies in the mining industry and neighboring industries were going through a similar expansion phase, and so we were highly focused on the recruitment, development and retention of key skills.

I led the team that redesigned and restructured the entire global business in a process involving redefining for each function and area what work was transactional and what was strategic and how the work would be delivered at operating unit, regional or corporate level. Within a twelve-month period, we had achieved both our cost-saving and our restructuring objectives.

Q : Why do you think there is such a big gender gap in the industry?  What is needed to create change?

Malini Saba : Mining can be perceived as dirty and dangerous and with the potential to create significant environmental damage if not managed ethically.  As such, the industry struggles to attract not only women but also young talent. I feel women think it’s a dirty job. It is a job that you have to eat and breath in order to compete.

Malini Saba   –  “ Remember we can’t move the resources, which often means remote locations, perhaps fly-in, fly-out operations or shift rotations. Remote locations, as opposed to corporate offices in large urban centers, don’t pose quite the same kind of challenges, and may fit more seamlessly into a career path that includes work-life balance as part of its goal.”  Example deep in the jungles of Kalimantan.

Furthermore, even if a company adopts and promotes an inclusive culture, mining is faced with a unique challenge in dealing with multiple environments, as Saba explains.

“You’ve got the mine site. You’ve got the corporate office, individuals in the field doing exploration, all being linked together in the sector. What can happen is you may have a strong corporate policy about respect in the workplace and diversity but getting that to trickle to all sites and all places that your company is doing business is a challenge.”

Thus, a lot has to change on the mindset of the miners. This should come from the culture the company puts in place from day one. It means constant reinforcement.

Q : Is your company doing anything about the gender gap?

Malini Saba : Yes we hire women. We also work with a lot of tribal families in the jungles. There we seek more women to work at the mines. We train them. They work and earn a living and at the same time be able to walk back home to their long houses.

It is a slow process to bring in women from the cities to go to the remote areas. But we have not stopped trying. Getting women in the corporate side of the business has not been that huge of a challenge.

The mining industry needs to do more to attract women into core technical roles, and to put in place clear talent management and coaching programs to help accelerate women into more senior roles and provide more flexible working arrangements. This includes policies around bursaries and scholarships, maternity leave, and equal pay for equal work.