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When Portia Malele finished high school, most of her classmates decided to pursue more mainstream careers like accounting, teaching and medicine.

But she had other things on her mind.

Portia wanted to break boundaries and enter a male-dominated field.

Today the 31-year-old is a manager at Sasol’s Secunda coal mine, where she’s tasked with overseeing a team of mostly male mine workers.

Portia says she was raised in a home where her parents didn’t subscribe to raising their children under the paradigm of traditional gender roles.

“Both my parents were quite open-minded. So anything you wanted to do, you could do it,” she recalls.

She proudly reveals that her mother, not her father, was the one who taught her how to drive.

But finding her feet as a leader in her industry has not been simple.

“I found that in my career that certain people just generally undermine you, because you’re a female. And that’s where you have to put your foot down, to say: ‘We’re not here for other businesses, we’re here for work’.”

She says even though the mine is not a typical women’s environment she is fighting hard to open the door for other women and believes that the industry can attract more women.