Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
As the first female and first Motswana woman to run an African diamond mine, we discuss tunnelling a path for women in mining with Managing Director of Lucara Botswana, Naseem Lahri
Writer: Phoebe Harper
“I am a product of diamonds mined in Botswana,” opens Naseem Lahri, Managing Director of Lucara Botswana (Pty.) Ltd, (Lucara Botswana).
“I was born in Botswana, did all my schooling here, and achieved my degree and professional qualifications all as a result of the diamond industry and the funds that were brought back into the development of the country,” she continues.
Operating the Karowe Mine, Lucara Botswana is a subsidiary of the Canadian diamond mining company, Lucara Diamond Corp. Karowe is a site reputed for its wealth of natural resources and home to some of the largest diamonds ever discovered. This includes the world’s second largest jewel that led to a collaboration with Louis Vuitton.
Initially joining Lucara Botswana in 2013 as Chief Financial Officer, Lahri was subsequently promoted to Managing Director five years later. This record-breaking career trajectory made Lahri the first woman and first Motswanan female citizen to assume the position for an African diamond mining company.
“It is an honour, privilege, and huge responsibility to hold this title. It is a role that has given me the opportunity to sell and drive the Botswana diamond story,” she states proudly.
Lahri’s professional background has equipped her with extensive experience in accounting and corporate finance, undertaking large scale strategic projects in her former senior management roles including the Morupule expansion, work on the Orapa turbines, secure transfer facility, and the implementation of shared services.
Yet the journey to the prestigious title that she holds today has not always been smooth sailing, with Lahri often encountering hurdles to hamper her progress – her own gender being one of them.
“During my journey to becoming a Managing Director, I was always told I was not technical enough to oversee a mining company. It took me 17 years to get to the position I am in.
“The difficulty was around heading the organisation. Firstly, I was an accountant, which is not considered technical in the mining fraternity and secondly, I am a woman. So, I had two things working against me,” she recalls.
Indeed, Lahri’s success may be seen as a product of her surroundings, in working for a company that is significantly ahead of the curve.
“It is only when I moved to Lucara that I saw this dream as an achievable goal. This was mainly due to the progressive leadership that ran the company.”
When the group appointed Eira Thomas as the new CEO of Lucara Diamond Corp., the change in management made Lahri’s dream a reality. Thomas heads an exco team that is 75 percent female at group level, and 67 percent on a local level.
“It is a phenomenal achievement. The number of women at the top was achieved organically due to the inclusive nature of Lucara.
“This is something for other companies to benchmark against,” comments Lahri.
At Lucara, female inclusion in the workforce is not merely a tokenistic move seeking to redress numbers in the gender balance – rather one based entirely on competence.
“Eira Thomas did not see my gender - all she saw was someone who could do the job, and so afforded me the opportunity.
“If you are competent enough to do the job you will be employed irrespective of gender, which is a quality that very few companies in the industry have. The good part about my promotion is that it is challenging the other players in the industry to follow suit.”
Additionally, it is a move that in today’s climate, simply makes business sense. As Lahrielaborates, “an inclusive environment will yield great results from a gender equality perspective and will show an increased number of women at the forefront.
“It has statistically been proven that female-run organisations show an increased bottom line within two years. Additionally, there’s substantial evidence that gender diversity at management level enhances a company’s performance.”
Lucara’s generally progressive stance echoes across a range of initiatives that the company undertakes as a socially responsible corporate citizen. The group partakes in a wide range of projects across the agricultural sector and within rural communities under the name of ‘The Green Diamond’. Such initiatives entail the Mokhubilo Integrated Farm and the Letlhakaneabattoir, both of which increase the wealth of communities through job creation, whilst also reducing malnutrition.
“Whatever we do, we ensure sustainable investment in our communities. The aim is to diversify and ensure that when the mine closes, the communities around us can thrive and we do not leave ghost towns and villages behind. We promote sustainable and generational benefit,” she tells us.
Lahri ends on an inspirational note of advice that she would offer to all pursuing a career in the mining industry, particularly for women seeking to progress in a male-dominated space.
“Never give up and never let anyone tell you what you can do. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to - nothing is impossible, and the sky is not your limit.
“Focus on what you want, and pursue it.”