Women in Waste Management : "Challenges are there to help you grow"

Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs, Redwave
© Redwave/Kellermayr

There are different kinds of interviews. Some people talk a lot without ever really answering any of the questions. In some conversations, you literally have to pull the answers out of people's mouths. And then there are interviews where you actually discuss some important topics. The discussion with Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs, CEO of sorting and recycling technology expert REDWAVE, falls squarely in the last category.
Within minutes we’re talking about gender stereotypes, the role of women in society and what chess has to do with it all.

"The thing is, we think that we live in such modern times, that our society is balanced, that everybody is equal. Unfortunately, that is still not the case," says Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs, who, as she says, started her life convinced that everybody was indeed equal ‒ not only by law but also in the way people think ‒ and had the same opportunities. But she slowly came to the conclusion that this is not really the case.

One event stands out to her. And although it relates to her private life, it seems symbolic. Her son plays chess ‒ sometimes in tournaments. Girls and boys play against each other until they are teenagers, but then the sexes are separated. "The reason given is that girls ‒ and women ‒ supposedly play less aggressively." Well.
But basically, the goal of every game is to defeat your opponent. So what kind of game is supposed to be "perfect" for women?

Nevertheless, she is also critical of her own gender: "Women often believe that they have everything under control. That they have to have everything under control. But it is so important to be able to let go. To transfer responsibility ‒ also to your partner."
Unfortunately, women have a tendency to hide their light under a bushel. Even ‒ or especially ‒ in job interviews. "I notice this again and again. Perhaps because this self-confident demeanour doesn't always come easily to me either," she says, adding that she does talk with her female employees about these issues.

But she is optimistic for future generations. "Current graduates are much more self-confident. Sometimes a bit overly so. So, paired with the apparently inherent female self-consciousness, this can be the ideal combination."

Read about more women in waste management here, here and here!

Balance is key

Even though she does not in the least mind working in a male-dominated industry, she thinks a well-balanced ratio of men to women is important. Because women and men have different ways of thinking, different approaches, she says, which leads to different solutions. "Of course, this is not completely true for everybody, but in general women are more concerned with building consensus and a good team spirit. Men are always more interested in attacking. And I think we need both. That will produce the strongest solutions."

For that reason she is glad to have a male Co-CEO, Manfred Hödl. "We complement each other perfectly." According to Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs there is absolutely no need for women ‒ or anybody really ‒ to change who they are. Focus on your strengths, is her motto.

Environmentally conscious

For more than twenty years, the waste management industry is her work-home. She joined her father Heinrich Fuchs' company BT-Wolfgang-Binder GmbH in 2003, when she was still studying international economics. She was reluctant to join the family business at first, but she put her reservations behind her as she was attracted to working with international clients in the sustainability sector. The REDWAVE brand was founded in 2004 and has been active in the fields of recycling and waste treatment ever since. As a mother of three, Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs is deeply committed to making a positive impact on our planet and the environment through her daily work in the recycling sector. Her dedication to sustainability and innovation is not just a professional mission, but a personal passion. "Of course, at the beginning it was hard. My colleagues really tested me. Especially since I don't have a technical background," she remembers. "But I was fortunate to have a mentor, who supported me and who I could turn to with my questions. It is important to know and understand your product," she says.

The 43-year-old is never afraid of a challenge. "Challenges are there to help you grow. Besides, it's that certain thrill that makes the whole thing interesting, isn't it?"

She really enjoyed working with her father, who taught her a lot. Many people also say that they are very much alike. A compliment.
She has been a member of the management team since 2013 ‒ initially together with her father, who has since retired.

As for the industry as a whole, the last couple of years ‒ from the COVID-19 pandemic to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza ‒ have been challenging. Unfortunately, Schweiger-Fuchs says, lawmakers have often created additional uncertainty in these times of instability. "Companies need at least some certainties in order to be able to plan. We used to plan 10 to 15 years into the future, but that's impossible today." She also takes a critical view of the increasing focus on national rather than global solutions. "Environmental problems would be much easier to solve if there was a global view of solutions, global standards."

"I believe in the team. In team decisions, in expert decisions. I am convinced that agile corporate management is important for the future. It is important to be able to hand over responsibility. This spreads the burden and the flood of information across several shoulders."
Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs

Not shying away from a challenge

Facing these challenges as a CEO of a global company does cause a certain level of stress. But Schweiger-Fuchs does not seem to mind. "I believe in the team. In team decisions, in expert decisions. I am convinced that agile corporate management is important for the future. It is important to be able to hand over responsibility. This spreads the burden and the flood of information across several shoulders."
Her success proves her right. Austrian-based company REDWAVE is an internationally renowned provider of sensor-based sorting machines and sorting solutions with branches in Germany, America, China and Singapore.

Her recipe for staying sane even in the face of enormous pressure? Give yourself time to rest. She would love to go running in her rare spare time but has found out for herself that concentrating on performance outside of the workplace is not good for her. Doing yoga helps her to find peace of mind. And even though regular office hours are out of the question for her ‒ she is basically always available for her team ‒ she has learned that she also needs to allow herself breaks. So, twice a year ‒ during the summer holidays and Christmas ‒ she will not check her mailbox and is contactable by phone for emergencies only. "I come back with a clearer mind," she says. And with that clear mind she will face every challenge thrown her way as she always does: head on.

About: Silvia Schweiger-Fuchs has a degree in international economics. She is CEO of REDWAVE a division of BT-Wolfgang Binder GmbH since 2013. The brand has branches worldwide. She is married and has three children.

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