Women in industry
Deshnee Naidoo, CEO Zinc International and CMT at Vedanta Resources
Inspiring women in the mining and metals industry
“If transformation in the mining industry had happened faster, we would have had the benefit of diversity sooner, and we would have been able to weather the commodity cycles better.”
From modest beginnings in the township of Phoenix, North West of central Durban in South Africa, Deshnee Naidoo, a chemical engineer by profession, constructed a distinctive career in the mining and metals industry. She made a few radical cross-disciplinary moves that ultimately led her to the role of the CEO of Vedanta Zinc International.
Early career barriers and lessons learned
In 1998, Deshnee started her career as a new graduate in Anglo American Platinum. Being a woman in the mining and metals industry was unique. Deshnee remembers always being a level or two below her male counterparts with a far lower salary. Indeed, she never got the training that some of her male counterparts received.
“When I think about barriers, I consider two areas, professional and personal.”
Deshnee recalls the element of grudge that existed in terms of hiring women into the mining and metals industry, with many approaching it as a requirement which they had to make work. Resilience as well as changing mindsets in the industry were key to overcoming this barrier.
From a personal perspective, Deshnee assumed that one had to be in certain circles to achieve in their careers. However, she quickly shook off that thinking once she realized it also had to do with ability, hard work and commitment. Once Deshnee started seeing the results of her hard work, her mindset began to shift.
Supporting a rise to leadership
Deshnee recalls that the flexibility her line managers gave her as a young mother was key to her success. “You will not be a mother of young children forever. If the firm can’t accommodate you, then it’s their problem, not yours.”
Further, she surrounded herself with mentors and role models who helped nurture her belief that she could achieve.
Deshnee believes that, on the home front, the right support network is crucial. She credits her husband and family for much of her success. At the end of a long day, she goes home to her sanctuary, leaving the stresses of the work day behind.
A mindset shift from work-life balance to work-life integration
“I started off believing that work-life balance was not possible to thinking that maybe it was; I can now firmly tell you it does not exist. What does exist is work-life integration.” Deshnee never switches off being a mother or a CEO at any given point of time. When at work, she is on a work-heavy program and family-light program; and when she is at home, she is on a family-heavy but work-light program.
She points out that this approach may not work for everyone. “It comes down to the individual. It comes down to your hunger. It comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice.”
Helping women to advance
“Success to one woman is success to us all.” Deshnee believes it is essential that women realize this and work together to empower each other.
While Deshnee regularly provides mentorship and coaching to other women, she notes the importance of policy change. One of her first acts as an executive at Anglo American was to change the maternity policy. Currently, as the CEO of Vedanta Zinc International, Deshnee and her team are looking at changing the talent and diversity policies to look at how the firm can create a more enabling environment.
Career advice from Deshnee
- You shouldn’t be constrained by what you think about what you find in your industry today. Think about where the industry is going and what you can do differently.
- You should think as big as you can. Don’t constrain your views to the roles that women have occupied in the past, you should know no bounds as there are no limits.
- You should start preparing for your success by building and nurturing your networks as early as possible.
The views of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.
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