Women have worked underground in South African mines since 2003. Their inclusion has been lauded by some as a step in the right direction – that is, towards gender equality in employment, as well as challenging gender stereotypes about work and women’s abilities. This dominant narrative, however, fails to acknowledge and address the challenges faced by women in mining. Using participant observation, living and working alongside women miners over the course of a year, I explored these challenges, and analysed their implications. I argue that if the mining sector wants to fully include women in mining, it needs to go beyond using quotas to achieve gender parity in numbers of women and men workers. While access to these jobs is important, retention depends on addressing the masculine culture which is deeply embedded in mining, making this a very challenging environment for women workers.