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Being a female boss in a men’s world

Amanda Tigere, a mine engineer at Trojan Nickel Mine, says as a  woman in a male-dominated industry she constantly battles against patriarchy.

Tigere (AT) opened up about her journey in the mining industry when she appeared on the platform In Conversation with Trevor hosted by Alpha Media Holding chairman Trevor Ncube (TN).

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Amanda Tigere, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.

AT: Thank you so much Trevor, it is my honour to be here.

TN: It is a pleasure having you. So you are a mine planning engineer?

It has been interesting watching people react when I have introduced you and say you are an engineer.

Do you get those kinds of responses or reactions when people introduce you as an engineer? As a female engineer?

AT: A lot actually, Trevor.

TN: Yeah.

AT: I am actually realising we are sort of rare fish, I do not know if I can say that.

I get a lot of disbelief in people, who say I cannot be saying the truth.

There are also those who are impressed who say ‘oh wow we actually have female engineers’.

TN: Are there many of you?

AT: Not really. I remember when I graduated from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), when we graduated in our class there were four of us (women) in a class of about 22 people.

TN: Do you have an idea now how many female engineers there are now in Zimbabwe?

AT: I cannot say a figure as such, but then we are very few because where I am working now there is only me, I am the only female engineer there.

Then I have got a friend at UNKI, I think there are three or four there.

Then Zimplats I think employs the most.

TN: What does this reaction, the reaction of surprise, reaction of people who are impressed, what does that say to you?

What does that do to you when you are introduced as a mine planning engineer and people react the way they have been reacting this morning?

AT: It feels goods.

TN: It feels good?

AT: It does feel good because you know how it is like.

This is something people believe females cannot do, or we are very rare in this field and you know I am there.

I am doing it and I am actually enjoying it for the most part.

TN: So you are a mine planning engineer with Trojan Nickel Mine?

AT: Correct.

TN: You basically started at the bottom as it were?

Talk to me about where you entered the industry and the way you have risen to where you are right now?

AT: Ok. Maybe I will start with me enrolling for mining at the UZ.

It was not actually by choice if I may say.

I can say mining chose me because you know I did not quite have career guidance.

So I was just there looking at the programmes, thinking what I could do.

I was looking for fancy names.

I did not have career guidance really. Let me take you prior to that.

My uncle had introduced me to this guy, he is a teacher (my uncle) by profession.

He told me he might not be able to advise me adequately for what I wanted to do in life, but he had a friend who he thought could help me through who was an electrical engineer.

So we met in town (Harare), and he told me he was an electrical engineer, and at that time he said he would advise that one should go for mining engineering.

He was looking at his peers who did mining engineering during his time and were doing quite well wherever they were, so he advised me to go for mining engineering.

Back then I did not know what mining engineering was.

To me, mining back then was the studying of rocks, which is actually geology.

So in my mind I was thinking this guy must be mad, I cannot spend four years studying about rocks as that could not be interesting.

I was listening to him but in my mind, I had made a decision that I was not going to choose mining.

So I went there for my applications at UZ.

TN: What were you going to choose?

AT: I was going to choose something in the medical field.

If I remember quite well I chose pharmacy, I chose radiography, and I chose one field in engineering which was mechanical engineering because I had always wanted to be like in aircraft engineering but that programme was not being offered in Zimbabwe at that time.

So I was like mechanical engineering was a bit close to aircraft engineering, it would be easy for me to migrate.

I knew what mechanical engineering was, I knew what pharmacy was, but with radiography I was just looking and saw it was a fancy name so I thought, let me try.

To my surprise Trevor, when the names came out in the newspaper my name was under mining.

I was in shock.

It is the one thing I knew that after having a conversation with that electrical engineer, it was one thing I knew I did not want to do as I thought it was not interesting studying rocks for four years as it was a lot of time.

I had some struggles in taking it on but I eventually took it. It has been interesting really Trevor.

My first year was exciting, second year I actually found out it was a good and interesting programme.

Then I went for my attachment which was my first industrial  experience. It was tough.

TN: What intrigues you about mining? Talk to me about that?

AT: It is a fast-paced industry. Decisions are constantly being made.

You can be sitting here and something just happens on the ground and it is fast moving.

The position that you had yesterday, by the next day you would have made a 360 degree turn.

So it is a fast paced industry and it keeps you on your toes. I like that.

TN: So the learnership you said it was for two years?

AT: Two years yes.

TN: After the learnership?

AT: After the learnership I was then appointed within the same organisation as the shift foreman development.

So now I had to actually lead the people in doing the actual mining work. This is like full-time working underground. Ten hour shifts, 6am to 6pm.

TN: 10-hour shifts?

AT: Yes 10-hour shifts.

TN: Working underground?

AT: Yeah the shifts were 6am to 4pm, but then you have to remain behind to do some report work and the like.

Yes, so basically 6am to 6pm you are underground.

There is a lot of walking, intense work. Like I said it is a fast paced industry and results are required.

The frequency of reporting is high.

Every hour you have to be seen to have done something because you cannot miss an hour, you cannot miss anything. I am here now as a shift boss.

TN: I suspect you are leading a team of mainly men?

AT: All men actually.

TN: All men?

AT: Yes, all men. My shift was composed of 36 people then, 36 men were under me.

TN: How was that like?

AT: There is a thing you know Trevor about men, I actually thought because I had been with the company for two years that people were now actually used to me, and it would just be easy as I was just moving from being a learner to being a supervisor. It was.

People were okay with me being a learner, but people were not okay with me being a female supervisor.

You will find someone you would talk to during your learnership days and do work with them, and now I had to be their supervisor and tell them what to do.

The difference was just massive. The other thing I learnt, I thought the hardest thing would be to manage the people below me, actually I found out it was managing my peers.

That was the greatest challenge.

You know people feel like because we are in a generation where there is a lot of talk about promoting women and stuff, if you get to a certain position as a woman, even if you are there you still have to prove your worthiness.

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