CFO Elmarie Maritz on nurturing women in mining

Sedibelo Platinum Mines CFO Elmarie Maritz sees the mining industry as an opportunity for women.

It’s a challenge for women to get into and be promoted in the mining industry, says Sedibelo Platinum Mines CFO Elmarie Maritz. But she also sees this landscape as an opportunity for women to get into leadership roles and support each other to become successful.

“It is a very difficult industry to incorporate women in all areas of the operations, and it’s a result of the nature of the industry and women’s physique,” she explains. However, she adds that there are many roles in a mine that women can fill, both in the office and on site.

“Women bring a different perspective, that something else to the table” and Elmarie believes that “promoting and nurturing women will benefit the industry as a whole.”

This is one of the reasons she advises women to speak up. “We often have something to say but think it’s not important, so we tend to keep quiet. Our male colleagues put themselves at the table and so should we as women”

A science
Elmarie certainly speaks from experience. She has been at SPM for over 10 years, starting as a financial accountant and holding the role of CFO since 2016.

Her love for maths, accounting and economics started at school and her passion for the discipline has grown stronger over the years. “Finance is a science, even though it is not always exact. Finance gives you access to business and I really enjoy that. People think we are just bean counters. Today the CFO is a business partner to the CEO and the COO. We help the company and operations achieve their long and medium-term goals.”

For Elmarie, the role offers something new every day and allows her to interact with a wide range of people, including engineers and clerks working on the mine. “It’s a diverse role, from the mundane to the great. I am busy daily with cash flow, treasury, budgeting, analysis, governance and financial statements. We’ve also got great work like commercial negotiations. I also look after the IT function, and it is now so important to look at digitisation with digital mining, data and smart computing,” she says.

She finds it very interesting to identify and develop platforms for the company to grow. “It’s forward looking and setting up for the future.”

Safety
She sees digitisation as an opportunity to sort out inaccurate information, get additional information and make better decisions. In this way, people will spend more time on evaluation, and it can provide smart metrics to make better decisions on safety and mitigate risks.

Safety is a key metric in mining. Elmarie believes the South African mining companies work hard to ensure the safety of their people as an industry, especially when it comes to standard operation procedures for safety. The mining industry prides itself with its ability to implement policies and procedures that worked particularly well, during the Covid-19 hard lockdown in the first half of 2020.

“The pandemic has hit the mining industry quite hard. We had to shut down the mine, ensure that mine assets were safeguarded and enable employees who could work from home, as well as taking people’s emotions and job uncertainty into account. There was zero production for about 45 days,” she says.

“After that period, we were able to ramp up to 50 percent of employees. The mining environment is different – people must operate safely – so employees went through medicals and rigorous training and screening for a period of time, before they could return to work. We also couldn’t have too many people in a small space. It brought a lot of challenges and employees were amazing. There were no serious incidents and Pilanesberg Platinum Mines kept communication going through SMSes and newsletters.”

New experiences
On a personal level, Elmarie admits that she felt trapped during the hard lockdown. “I don’t enjoy working from home. I like being with my colleagues, seeing them and talking with them,” she says. “Like other families, my husband and two teenagers were also at home. We had to find a space for each of us, where there couldn’t be too many interruptions. My youngest didn't always understand that I was in a meeting and would just walk in when she had something to say to me.”

She adds that she also missed what she previously had, like being able to go for a jog or a cycle. “I missed my in-laws, family and friends. The hardest thing during the pandemic was that I lost my colleague, a financial manager at the mine. It affects you personally. I don’t think we appreciate what the pandemic has actually done to us.”

Despite these work and personal challenges, Elmarie was able to use the time productively, to update the future development plans for the Sedibelo Group as Platinum Group Metal prices recovered during the period. “This is certainly positive as it will bring new experiences and technology. We are negotiating a few new finance arrangements and planning new development projects. This will give the finance team scope to change and grow,” she says.

“We have a great finance team in the operations, which was set up by my late colleague. They are smart, intelligent, independent women who are drivers and ready to grow. People are often headhunted from outside the company for the top jobs. I was fortunate to be promoted from within the company and I now want to offer that opportunity to other women in the company.”