30 September 2020

The mining leader rising above life’s challenges with grit and ambition

Dr Patience Mpofu

Dr Patience Mpofu

Doctorate by Research in Applied Science (Minerals and Materials)
Founder & CEO, Insight Mining Experts
Founder & CEO, Peak Performance with Patience

Dr Patience Mpofu has turned her trailblazing career in the mining and metals industry across the globe into supporting and paving the way for other women coming up against the same barriers she experienced on her way to success.

After gaining her PhD at the University of South Australia and a string of high-profile management roles with mining company giants in South Africa, she was recognised as one of the 36 women leaders from around the world to take part in the prestigious 2018-2019 International Women’s Forum Fellows Program. An honour that changed the course of her path.

The experience sparked a real love in Patience to use the trials and tribulations she has navigated throughout her career to help other women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Despite having to often prove herself, ensuring she was delivering exceedingly above and sometimes working twice as hard than most males at the same level to be recognised, Patience’s turned these challenges into grit and ambition, propelling her career from lead metallurgist to Senior Strategy Analyst at Anglo American, Senior Manager of Business Development at Lonmin Platinum, and eventually Vice President of Corporate Affairs in Africa at South32.

Using her experiences in these high-level roles – along with great relationships and networks – she worked towards empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the hopes of achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Agenda goal to achieve gender equality by 2030. It’s this vital advocacy she continues with her consulting work.

gender equality
Patience (second row, fourth from right) with her South32 colleagues at UN Women’s launch of the Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC) in New York City where she was a representative

Now Patience spends her days as a sustainable development mining leader, helping to advance critical sustainable development goals for mining companies, ensuring they meet ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) metrices, and a leadership coach for women in STEM, working towards closing the gender gap for women in the industry and nurturing their talents.

“Gender inequality and discrimination is real. I have personally experienced it not once, but many times and studies have shown a huge portion is attributed to culture of the work environment,” says Patience.

“I wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved without the support of males and champions of change and while they believed in me, I also needed supportive females, but there were fewer females in leadership roles.”

“The issue of unconscious bias in the workplace is an aspect that is still not fully explored to close the gender gap and really needs further work from both men and women.”

Patience grew up as the third child in a “big family in a typical black township in Zimbabwe” to two working-class parents that sacrificed everything to provide an adequate education for their children. The value of hard work and the power opportunity was instilled in her from a very early age, and this grit has remained a mainstay throughout her professional career.

Bright and curious even as a child, Patience had always been enthralled with the sciences and chemistry, and this set her off on a trajectory in Chemistry and all the exciting opportunities that would present themselves in the mining and metallurgy industry.

She even didn’t let the birth of her son and marriage during her first year at university slow her down.

However, when her father was unexpectedly involved in a car accident, his passing upended Patience’s life and not long after she also divorced her husband. These traumatic experiences marked a momentous “turning point” for Patience.

Dr Patience Mpofu
Patience inspiring the next generation of young scientists at a National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) event.

“Not only did I have to fend for myself and my son as a single parent, but I had to continue assisting my family after the death of my father,” she says.

“I had one of two choices – stick my head in the ground and feel sorry for myself or dust myself off and get on with life so that I can achieve the goals I had set for myself.”

“I had a son and a family to think about. There was no time to feel sorry for myself. So, I chose to remain focused on my goals. I had to quickly shift the paradigm of being a victim to victorious.”

Her hard work and persistence paid off when excelling at her role as a Senior Chemist – amidst all this turmoil – Patience received a dual scholarship from UniSA and Anglo American Platinum, a multinational, billion-dollar mining company listed on the London Stock Exchange, to study a PhD at the University. 

Her experience in Adelaide at UniSA and the former Ian Wark Research Institute proved pivotal, not only broadening her mind and enhancing valuable analytical and problem-solving skills, but also enabled her to build great relationships and networks globally.

“I had the privilege of being supervised by Professor John Ralston and Professor Jonas Addai-Mensah at UniSA,” Patience says. “I was challenged intellectually by these two which made the experience very enriching and it also taught me to ask the right questions. Up to today, I attribute my success to these amazing Professors.”

“During this time, I also met other amazing people and made great international contacts. We still talk and recently invited Adjunct Professor Gayle Morris and Associate Dean of Higher Degrees at RMIT Kate Fox to participate in a Legacy Project that is seeking to inspire women in STEM. I am a firm believer of being connected to people and making an impact.”

At the age of 32, Patience had obtained her PhD in Minerals and Material Sciences, was published in peer-reviewed journals and had presented at international and national conferences, along with a whole swag of awards – however despite this professional success the experience was not all smooth sailing.

Dr Patience Mpofu
Patience on a well-deserved holiday in Indonesia with her “pillar of strength” and son, William and sister Diana.

“I remember when I was doing my PhD and my son was only 5-years-old. I was complaining how hard balancing the work was and he said, “Mum, you are strong like Superman,” and as a single parent, I realised all I could think of was how can I be better daily and how I can add value.”

With her consulting work she is building a tribe and community to help women in similar conditions realise their mission and purpose.

She has an innate understanding of what it takes to achieve in male-dominated work environment and is also pulling inspiration from the accomplished women across the world she has encountered.

“In my career I have had supportive managers and teams that collectively we realised the organisational and individual dreams,” says Patience. “Throughout life you also get people who believe in you and will support you, and having amazing sponsors and mentors is part of that.”

“As they say in the South African language Zulu, ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’, I am because of you.”

Patience’s Advice in Leadership

As a leadership coach, Patience is continually helping her clients to unleash their superpowers and strive for success. Her success has embodied the power of unlocking your potential and how it guides you towards the courage, confidence and vulnerability needed to address challenges head on.

Patience has now compiled all her decades of multidisciplinary global industry experience in Executive Committees and Board Leadership in the mining and metals industry and insights into her new book, ‘Unleashing My Superpowers: powerful peak performance leadership strategies to succeed in a male dominated work environment’, expected to be published in December 2020. Pre-order a copy here for a special offer.

Patience is also currently conducting a survey and interviewing C-Suite women in STEM to understand their challenges as part of her book launch. Any woman in STEM professions or industries (University Graduates, Specialists, Managers to GM level or Entrepreneurs) can participate in the survey if they are C-Suite or Board level.

Below she details a couple of her key findings for those wanting to secure professional and leadership success.

1. What makes an effective and successful leader to you?

An effective and successful leader leads themselves in self-mastery, challenges their belief systems that limit leading effectively,  and inspiring others, and finally has the mental and spiritual toughness to build great teams and create Peak Performance organisations.

A successful leader makes everyone (including stakeholders) feel heard, respected, and is inclusive. Values the diversity of each and every member of their team or organisation.

Ultimately, they have the power and ability to identify and unleash each person’s superpowers to be the better versions of themselves so that they create even more value for all stakeholders. My inspiration is a leader with a high level of consciousness like Nelson Mandela or Oprah Winfrey.

2. How important is effective leadership in achieving actual change and productivity in an organisation?

Leadership is at the core of any organisation. A leader defines the culture of an organisation. If the culture promotes non-delivery, poor engagement and not caring for its stakeholders, value destruction etc., all this filters across the entire organisation.

With the COVID-19, we have seen how a leader can destroy value and its people. We need visionary, empathetic, with high levels of consciousness leaders. Leaders who value their employees and communities and create sustainable shared value. Employees can only function productively if they are supported with their wellness as we have seen how COVID-19 has impacted everyone and their mental health. What questions are leaders not asking themselves? We need to start asking the right questions and challenge ourselves about our assumptions about the world.

3. What would you say to anyone wanting to advance in their career, nurture their talents, and take on more leadership roles?

Know your 'Why', values and believe in yourself. Constantly seek feedback on your behaviours to improve on your leadership skills and build relationships. Invest in a coach and a mentor who will help you navigate your challenges and support you. Lastly, leadership is a journey, constantly learning is key as we live in uncertain times. This is an inspiration that each person reading this can draw strength from.

Dr Patience Mpofu's book "Unleashing My Superpowers - Powerful Peak Performance leadership strategies to succeed in a male dominated work environment (STEM)

Follow the link here to take the survey and more information on Patience and her work here.


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