The proportion of women in mining, engineering and other technical industries is an important topic across the globe. Slow but steady progress is being made to address the gender imbalance with companies like Royal HaskoningDHV, an international engineering and project management consultancy, playing an important part in creating a more balanced workforce. This is evidenced by the company’s South East Asian operations headed up by Berte Simons.
The Royal HaskoningDHV Indonesia president and Business Unit director of Mining and Heavy Industry is an engineer with a maritime background having started her career in the Dutch Merchant Navy. Alongside having a young family, Berte Simons is based in Indonesia and is closely involved with the company’s projects in the region. She led a project with one of Indonesia’s largest coal producers, ABN Group, in which Royal HaskoningDHV supported ABN’s PT Media Djaya Bersams to expand its coal processing plant in Northern Sumatra, covering feasibility and funding to project management and onsite construction management support.
The ASIA Miner’s editor John Miller spoke to Berte Simons about the gender imbalance issue as well as her company’s progress in Indonesia.
THE most effective and productive way for companies to communicate effectively with all stakeholders in the current global climate is to become more diverse and more balanced in terms of gender, nationality and age, according to Royal HaskoningDHV Indonesia president and Business Unit director of Mining and Heavy Industry Berte Simons. This process is not just about gender or nationality issues, she says, it is about bringing in something different.
While acknowledging that the gender balance in mining and industry in South East Asia is no better than elsewhere with senior positions mostly held by men, Berte Simons says it is important to have diversity at all levels.
“The global financial crisis, declining commodity prices and changing market dynamics means that we are never again going to see the pre-2008 boom times in mining. The downturn has brought the era of the traditional white male, old boys network to a close and has significantly altered the decision making process. The environment in which mining companies and mining suppliers operate in is now global, more diverse and a lot more challenging, and progress cannot be made by simply doing things the old way,” she says.
Many mining companies have diversity in terms of national backgrounds because it is a global business but Berte Simons says this is not so much the case for women. “In general women have a few different drivers that lead to decision making which is why it is important to have balance and diversity.
“Women are more confident in talking about the things nobody else likes to address and tend to do this more objectively. They have a little more distance and are generally more able to say ‘is there something else we need to talk about’ or ‘I can see this is happening’, and are able to observe if there are people not speaking up. It’s about making the right decisions at the right time.”
In South East Asia women are more likely to be employed at management level in family-owned businesses or financial positions. By contrast, in developed countries women also tend to serve in project management or senior technical roles as well.
“The imbalance is similar across the age span, except for the 55-plus age group where it tends to be worse, and this is a global issue,” Berte Simons says. “You see some women in this age group working in financial positions or in social/environmental stakeholder engagement roles. I know a few independent professional women in that age group who have such roles. But if I had to find a senior project manager to be based on site, particularly a remote site, it would be difficult to find a woman prepared to do that. And, this is a situation that is often seen across South East Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
“While things are slowly improving, in this region there are fewer women graduating from universities in technical disciplines which means it is going to take a long time to achieve an ideal balance.
“The issue is generally being addressed in universities but not effectively in terms of career development. There is insufficient focus on ensuring women advance to become leaders in technical areas through broadening their prospects in different fields. They are being brought in to technical roles through universities but no one is thinking about bringing them into the industry, particularly on a long-term basis, and this must be addressed.”
She says she has no doubt whatsoever that there is general acceptance by men of having women more involved at all levels. “I was the only woman in the mining team when I started heading up a team of 110 men across the globe but it wouldn’t have mattered whether I was the first non-Indonesian, expat or 30-something doing this job, it’s just that you are the first one who is different to the rest and it is difficult to be that person. Going from one to five is also not easy but after critical mass is achieved, the mould is broken and it gets easier.
“My generation is different than the generation before me. They were really the first to break the mould, which means they were often quite masculine in their ways as that was the way things were done. Women in my generation feel more freedom to be themselves, not someone else, and are freer to choose their own leadership style and negotiation methods.
“You have to stay who you are, you have to be prepared to say ‘I have no expertise in this field, I wouldn’t have a clue how to help you but let me give it some thought’. The previous generation was forced to go along with the flow more often than not,” she adds, “but that does not mean things have to stay that way.”
Royal HaskoningDHV evolves with Indonesia
ROYAL HaskoningDHV is involved in many aspects of the ongoing development of Indonesia, including mining, and has been in the country since 1972. The company is evolving as Indonesia evolves, as its economy gets stronger and it becomes more industrialized.
Royal Haskoning and DHV are Dutch consultancy companies who merged in 2012 and have both been active in Indonesia for more than 40 years but in different markets. Royal HaskoningDHV Indonesia president and Business Unit director of Mining and Heavy Industry Berte Simons says, “Historically we have been involved in the private sector in ‘light’ industries such as food and beverage as well as in architectural and civil kind of work; a lot of aid type work for different donors focused on water related projects; and some environmental, port related work.
“We have grown significantly in the past two years, from about 190 staff when we merged to 350 now, and are servicing clients in all sectors: the industry sector which includes mining, oil & gas, and heavy industries such as cement; the water related component which deals with drinking water supplies, sanitation and waste water; the port sector which is involved in port development and land reclamation; and a sector devoted to structural development, such as building hospitals, schools, etc. About 80% of our business is industry and water related.
“We have 34 expatriates representing six nationalities with most assigned to projects. Our management team is 50:50 male and female with slightly more than 50% Indonesian and less than 50% Dutch. We previously had a more prescriptive approach but we are now much more diverse with more local involvement. Our team is more balanced in terms of age, gender and background, particularly in leadership areas.”
Berte Simons says the mining business is strong for the company in Indonesia and is growing as are the logistics and infrastructure arms, which include dry bulk terminals, liquid bulk terminals, oil terminals, port facilities, power plants, etc. “The government’s emphasis on development of value added facilities for the natural resources is beneficial for us with provision of infrastructure. However, the ban on raw material exports has not been good for the mining industry as a whole as there has been very little exploration and investment in the past two years, although it has picked up a little in the last few months.
“We have been busy but the market has been quiet. With mining, if the stuff is in the ground and there are good grades, it will come out at some point in time when all the parameters are right.”
She says Indonesia is not an easy country in which to do business but it is the same situation in all emerging countries. “In these countries you have varying political stability and a lot of drive for local capacity building and local ownership, and these are challenges the mining industry has to tackle in order to survive and grow.”