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‘Where are all the women?’

RWM will host the first networking event for the new Women in Waste group, which includes a panel discussion on women working in the waste industry. Here are the views of three members

Esther Kiddle is founder and chief executive officer of Women in Waste (WinW) and associate solicitor at Bond Pearce

Why did I set up Women in Waste? Having been around the industry and attended various events and panels over the years, there have been occasions when I wondered ‘where are all the women?’

I have met some outstanding women who work in and for the waste and recycling industry, and what makes them stand out from the crowd is how passionate and committed they are about what they do.

Being passionate about waste - the dynamic and ever-changing technical and legal challenges, watching it develop from engineered holes in the ground to sophisticated high-tech kit and processes - the waste industry offers so much to women. Engineers, scientists, public relations, project managers, operatives, HR - you name it and you will find women in these roles. And the women who work in, and for, the industry offer so much in return.

WinW provides an opportunity for women to meet up, network, do business and have fun. It also provides a platform for event organisers, businesses and professional bodies to find talent. The group now has more than 300 members on its LinkedIn page and 70 women have signed up to the RWM networking event, which will follow the panel session at the show.

WinW is not about the debate over gender equality - there is no debate. Women, as with all diversity, add value and stability to business and industry.

The overwhelming view of the women I have talked to is that they love working in the waste industry. They enjoy what they do and they would recommend it to others. Women are making their mark on all areas of society, from winning gold medals at the Olympic Games to the appointment of new chief executives of large waste companies.

If you want to hear what some of the women who work in the industry have to say or show your support for them, attend the panel debate. The event is not just for women - it is for everyone.

Anastasia Whitelegg is waste to energy permit support manager at Viridor Waste Management

I qualified as a minerals surveyor in the mid-1990s and did a masters in mineral resources.

I have a varied background in planning, licensing and engineering. In my current role, I am responsible for ensuring the environmental compliance of the department with permit obligations and internal procedures, as well as developing and managing the environmental data generated by the department.

The waste industry has historically been a very male- oriented business. However, more women are obtaining relevant qualifications and should be given the opportunity to bring diversity to the workforce.

Women are definitely still in the minority in the waste industry. This is especially true in the more operational parts of the business. Where you tend to see more women in the waste industry is in the ‘softer’ areas such as HR, training and secretarial. This may be due to an acceptance of women in these areas or due to these types of roles requiring certain skills like empathy and compassion, which are usually easier for women to apply.

For women to succeed in more operational roles, they would need to be quite strong in character, able to stand up to some of the prejudices they may face and, more importantly, be able to fight on a daily basis to prove they are competent.

I believe women have potential to go far in the industry. Their natural ability to multi-task as well as being able to manage difficult personal situations should make them ideal managers. However, from my experience there is a glass ceiling in existence in the waste industry which is preventing women from progressing above middle manager level, while female directors are few and far between.

Women waste professionals should try to encourage more women into the industry wherever possible. This could be achieved through implementing initiatives in schools to get girls to choose appropriate subjects and explain how they could relate to the jobs or through universities to broaden understanding of opportunities in the workplace.

Yvonne Pearce is a freelance waste management consultant. She has a background in waste management, including managing the South Gloucestershire Council waste services client team and its annual budget of £21m.

I joined the industry in the mid-1970s and it was a male- dominated world. At both regional and national IWM meetings and conferences, as a female I was definitely in the minority and, at times, felt like I was a bit of novelty item. I felt I had to work harder to prove my knowledge and ability.

Nevertheless, there were a few women in the waste sector who were recognised as leading lights at that time, including Helen Toft, the first female IWM president.

I enjoyed attending the regional meetings, and one in particular in the early 1980s comes to mind when I was a lone female attendee. The topic of the meeting was vehicles and transportation and it was sponsored by a vehicle manufacturer.

The last presentation of the morning session was given by a representative from Pirelli tyres, about the making of the Pirelli calendar. As we sat through slides of scantily clad and/or topless women, I tried to focus on the artistic merits of the calendar. Afterwards I knew that many of the men present had felt awkward about me being at the presentation and both the presenter and the meeting organiser apologised.

But it set me up for landfill site cabins which were decorated by far, far more raunchy photos than those in the Pirelli calendar. The site staff could not have cared less, and my requests for them to be removed were generally greeted with a joke or disdain. But as I was setting them up for more unpleasant or boring tasks such as collecting samples of raw leachate or logging data, I needed to be tactful.

A recent survey of the CIWM membership profile shows how the gender balance has changed. For the older age groups, only 10-15% of the membership are female, whereas in younger age brackets women make up around 50% of the membership. Also, from a quick glance at the Women in Waste membership list, I see women working in a wide range of sectors - consultants, public sector, contractors, service and goods suppliers.

As for those site office calendars - they are now dominated by landscapes or football teams, or there is no calendar at all, with electronic calendars in their place.

Panel session: get networking

Leaders Theatre, 12 September, 16.00 to 16.30 Women in waste: does diversity promote growth? Do women have something different to offer? Or is it all rubbish?

Chaired by group founder Esther Kiddle. Speakers include: Rachel Jowitt, waste strategy and resources manager, Monmouthshire County Council; Amaya Arias-Garcia, engineering manager, Tamar Energy; Siobhan Kennedy-Hall, general manager - waste and environmental facilities service, Mitie; Beth Ripper, project consultant, Axion Consulting; Jessica Stewart, recycling and compliance executive, Veolia Environmental Services UK.

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