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News analysis: where are all the women?

The waste industry has one of the worst records of employing women. In terms of its gender balance, it is seen as old-fashioned in its attitudes to employing women.

As a whole, the environment industry is heavily male dominated with 69% of employees being male and 31% female. But estimates suggest that when it comes to the waste management industry, the number of men employed compared to women rockets above 80%.

University College Northampton professor of environmental and waste management Paul Phillips said: "There is a gender imbalance that just isn't chance. Young-ish females who are coming out of school and university come across a culture that is overtly male.

"This can be confrontational or can involve situations such as all-male late-night drinking meetings."

But those women who work in the industry often find that once there, opportunities for advancement are limited.
Phillips added: "There is a glass ceiling - a barrier to females moving up in a company. However, local authority recycling officers are often female. If you go across the whole sector from local authorities to waste management, many women in local authorities will be female, but in the companies they will be male, other than the occasional secretary."

But is anything being done to improve this situation for women?

Last year, a group of around 50 higher education institutions around the UK got together to support the waste management industry. This network has now launched a programme called Women into Waste and Resource Management (WWARM) that will aim to enable and empower women for a career in the waste management industry or in waste research. It is based at the SITA Centre at University College Northampton, and is funded by the Department for Education and Skills.

Phillips argues that women are interested in waste, but find it difficult to enter commercial industry. He said: "All 12 of my researchers are female. What these people and those in their last year of university need are role models in the industry to reassure them."

"Through WWARM, we will offer them role models and mentoring. We will introduce them to women who are working in the waste industry."

The network also held a conference last year at Nottingham University that allowed young researchers and Phd students the opportunity to make presentations. This will be held again this year and will offer young people - both undergraduates and post-graduates - the chance to get bursaries to fund their research by attending waste management conferences.

"The conference proved that people interested in the waste industry are not just old, white men," said Phillips. "At least half of the people are female."

WWARM is also offering six seminars across England from March to December to encourage the mentoring of young, female researchers. It is also looking to set-up a website that will help women enter the industry. This will also include around ten case studies of women who have been successful in waste management.

Getting more women into the industry will be a two-way process that will mean women having to take the step and almost bully their way in, while men will need to be more accepting and realise that under equal opportunity and employment laws, women have just as much right to a job in the industry than men, according to Phillips.

"Women in some area

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