Are More Women Joining the Waste Industry?

BLOG: Women to Transform Waste as International Women’s Day Approaches

Ahead of International Women’s day on 8 March, Anna Cawley, Director of Customer Service at Cawleys Waste Management discusses the changing opportunities for women in waste.

Image © Anna Cawley

Ahead of International Women’s day on 8 March, Anna Cawley, Director of Customer Service at Cawleys Waste Management discusses the changing opportunities for women in waste.

For many, the waste management industry is perceived to be traditionally masculine – and with images of trucks, skips, hard hats and landfill sights initially coming to mind, this isn’t necessarily a surprise.

But with an industry that’s fast moving, constantly innovating and on the tip of the tongues of much of the British public, are more women joining waste management and how do we encourage more young females into the industry?

Are more women joining the waste industry?
When I joined Cawleys fifteen years ago, I would often get strange looks from both men and women when I mentioned that I worked in waste. I’d attend networking events, conferences or trade shows and I’d be one of only a few women in the room, if not the only one.

I’m pleased to say that it’s a different story now.

When the Cawleys team or I attend an industry event, it’s wonderful to see a diverse group of people engaging with the waste management industry – and I can’t remember the last time someone stared at me strangely after saying I worked in waste.

At Cawleys, over 20 per cent of our staff are women. One in five may not sound like a lot, but as a company we take pride that these women are some of the best in the industry and spread across a range of different departments. As well as having women in traditionally female roles, such as HR and marketing, Cawleys have female employees in our workshop, in the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), in hazardous waste and in transport.

Having a diverse workforce, brings together a wealth of different experiences. Incorporating people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, ethnicity or age, allows the company to bring new and differing ideas to the table when solving an issue – avoiding ‘tunnel vision’ and expanding our problem-solving remit.

This also means we have a workforce that more accurately reflects our customer base. Many of our clients operate in female dominated sectors such as hospitality, healthcare and education. These are sectors that can make a real difference to the planet by taking a sustainable approach to waste, and therefore being able to see themselves in the waste industry actively encourages sustainable practises.

As well as seeing more women in the waste industry, we’re definitely seeing a greater influx than ever before of younger people joining the industry. Younger people who come into the industry tend to be a lot more emotionally invested in the state of our environment and how waste can affect it. I would put this down to them growing up in a much more environmentally aware world, learning about the consequences of climate change in science and geography lessons at school.

Just this month, for example, on Friday 15th February, students across the UK walked out of class amid their growing concern about the escalating climate change crisis. This demonstration has spread across Europe since a sixteen-year-old Swedish school held a solo protest outside the country’s parliament in September 2018.

Why do we need women in waste?
As a rule, I try and avoid generalisations but you can’t ignore the environmental benefits of having more women in the waste industry.

As natural carers, many women are passionate about doing all they can to protect the environment and it is highly beneficial to have a workforce that can bring these attributes to the waste industry. The more the industry cares about doing the right thing, the more likely it is to use innovation and technology to drive change and deliver processes that help the planet, rather than harm it.

My colleague, Nicky Severn, Marketing Manager at Cawleys also makes an interesting judgement when asking why we need more women in waste:

“Although traditional roles are changing, in many households’ women are still responsible for duties such as shopping and food preparation. As such, women often make choices that impact the type and volume of waste a home and family produce. With this in mind, it will help the waste industry immensely by having a greater number of female spokespeople, advocating the benefits of sustainable solutions to waste management and promoting the benefits of individual actions that can make a real difference to our planet.”

How do we encourage more women into waste?
To any women who are interested in the waste sector but are worried that they might not ‘fit in’ to the industry as a female, I hope the information above has spurred you on to fulfil your ambition.

What I would say that as a woman in waste you have to be open to learn. The industry is an ever-evolving business, with new challenges occurring every day on both a local and global level. For example, one of the biggest challenges for our business is the shortage of skilled Drivers and Vehicle/Plant Technicians/Fitters.  In recognition of this we had to design a benefit and reward scheme that is aimed at retaining our talent.

Furthermore, to attract more women we have to show young girls the power the waste industry can have from an early age. Highlighting the advances in recycling, waste to energy and renewable energy in the last fifty years will encourage girls to take the next step to further change the state of our environment for the better.

A recent document published by the United Nations for International Women in Science Day (11th February 2019) showed that, although for many women the sociological barriers to entering traditional male-dominated workplaces are disappearing, girls are still discouraged from studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in higher education. Showcasing the accomplishments of scientists such as eighteen-year-old Kiara Nirghin, who developed a cheap, biodegradable polymer made entirely from waste, will encourage more girls to enter the waste industry, tackling the world’s environmental issues head on. 

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to show how the waste sector is becoming more diverse; encouraging more women to join this ever changing and essential industry.