ISWA study : Potential for women to tackle climate crisis - with the right support

WIW 52023, women in waste management 5/23
© Kellermayr

Whereas the first WOW! global online survey was a mapping exercise of women in the waste management hierarchy, the second survey went deeper. The study provided a space for women to describe their experiences in the workplace, the kinds of challenges they face, what types of support they might need, and which benefits they appreciate already. The survey also included more personal questions about their goals, ambitions, and work-life balance.

Data was gathered from over 600 women across 75 countries, with majority of respondents from Latin America and North America. The analysis was conducted by Professor Linda Godfrey of the award-winning Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa.

Women like working in the waste sector - until they turn 30

Women responded positively to working in the waste sector, indicating “I feel proud..." (66.4% of respondents) and having a “sense of purpose…" (67.9%). They voiced ambition and a desire for impact, seeking experience and opportunities to advance professionally. Results suggest that the sector is attracting young female talent, and notably those with a high level of education (87.7% reached tertiary education) and leadership skills (61.0% currently work in a management role). Most respondents (53.1%) were found to be working in jobs across the waste hierarchy, highlighting the often cross-cutting nature of work in the waste sector. For those women that selected a single activity, most (33.3%) were working in ‘waste recycling’, followed by ‘waste collection or transfer’ (19.4%) - key stages of the circular economy.

Despite many women highlighting stress due to difficult working conditions and/or long working hours, as well as frustrations, more women highlighted the supportive benefits offered by employers such as flexible working hours or location (57.8%), and personal development/support/training (54.5%), health and safety (49.9%) and personal health insurance and pension (49.4%). Such human capital investments are linked to overall improved profitability. Indeed, a new BlackRock study just released entitled "Lifting financial performance by investing in women" recommends investing in companies with more a women-friendly culture in their top 5 take-aways.

When asked about their needs, respondents asked for more opportunities to gain experience through involvement in projects; working as part of experienced teams; mentorship; and access to quality information and training. They also mentioned networking opportunities, bonuses, access to loans, and interestingly, access to digital literacy, pointing to a decidedly motivated female workforce. (Note to editor: suggest showing the word-cloud image supplied here)

However, the analysis shows that young women are leaving the sector as of age 30 and the authors suggest this could be connected to higher levels of family responsibility (62.1% report up to 4 hours of family work per day). Unfortunately, among the various age groups surveyed, respondents in the 21-25 age group (15.0%) experienced the most “harassment by disrespectful or unwanted sexual attention at work”, and 20.0% of 21–25-year-old respondents felt “frustrated due to limited access to resources and/or opportunities." There was a noticeable correlation between wealthier countries and organisational policies that protect against sexual harassment in the workplace and other forms of gender-based violence. These are all clear markers for needed improvement.

Women are investment amplifiers. Women-led companies are not only more innovative but also more resilient.
Delila Khaled, Principal of ImpaXus

In recent years, there has been growing recognition among the private sector of the importance of diversity and gender equality in the workplace to remain competitive, and to attract and retain talent. Some waste management companies are addressing the gender disparity and promoting inclusivity through targeted initiatives, such as Veolia's inclusion strategy Five By 2025, the Volvo Group’s pledge #EmbraceDifference, and the WM Inclusion Groups.

Investing in women brings positive returns across the board. "Women are investment amplifiers," says Delila Khaled, Principal of ImpaXus, "women-led companies are not only more innovative but also more resilient. They are more likely to prioritise the environment, solve for local problems, and invest in their communities. On top of that, they are more capital efficient, earning higher returns with less money invested when compared with their male counterparts."

It should be noted that the Global Survey II has some limitations, namely that it was made available in only three languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese), and just over half of the women reached were from high income countries (51.2%). Nevertheless, it shares important insights and subjective data that can be used to inform donors, policy makers, employers, and planners at all levels of the waste sector.

Download the Women of Waste WOW global survey here.