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Is the waste industry’s pay for women equitable?


The gender pay statistics for the waste sector squeezed out of companies by Government legislation this spring make for fascinating reading. By 4 April 2018, all employers with 250 or more staff had to publish certain figures showing the differences in how they remunerate the two sexes*. 

Described by equality body the Fawcett Soci­ety as a “game changer” for workplace culture, the law shone a light on pay practices across the UK. Across all industries, the median gender pay gap was just under 12%. In essence, that means the average woman earned 88p for every pound paid to the average man. Whether they are undertaking the same work or not, this is a pretty sad state of affairs for supposedly mod­ern Britain.

*All reported gender pay figures related to a snapshot of salaries in April 2017.

**This is the MRW-calculated ‘median median’ pay gap for waste, and is calculated in this way. The median pay gap at each company is worked out by ranking all men’s salaries and all women’s, finding the middle point of each and seeing which is larger and by how much. Taking those 41 median pay gaps and ordering them, then choosing the middle point, gives you the median median for the sector.

It sounds clumsy but it is fairly straightforward. It is as close as possible to find an average figure that truly represents the rank and file workers in the waste sector without being pulled off in one direction by very high or low earners.

The construction industry was shamed as having the largest median gender pay gap at 23.6%. Accommodation and food service activities had the lowest at 3.8%. But all 22 broad sectors measured paid men more than women.


  • 41 waste management companies reported on gender pay
  • 18 firms had gender pay gaps in favour of women
  • 21 companies had gender pay gaps in favour of men
  • The median median gender pay gap was 0.8% towards men
  • The median median bonus pay gap is 6.4% in favour of men
  • The median proportion of women in the top quartile of the waste firms’ earners is 14.5%
  • Among the lowest earners, the median proportion of women in this earnings bracket is 16% Two firms paid men and women equally 21 companies had gender pay gaps in favour of men 18 firms had gender pay gaps in favour of women

Workforce analytics company Staff Metrix lumped the waste sector in with water supply and sewage to give a combined median gender pay gap of 6.5% in favour of men. To get a clearer picture, MRW has undertaken its own analysis of 41 gender pay submissions by waste management companies alone – and the results make interesting reading**.

On the face of it, the sector comes out with a strikingly low level of gender pay bias, with an average gender pay gap of just 0.8%. This suggests that women at waste firms are effec­tively earning more than 99p for every pound paid to men in the industry – an imbalance but one that is far slighter than elsewhere across the UK.

But before the champagne corks start pop­ping or female graduates and school leavers flock to fill in applications to work in the sector, let’s look a bit closer at the underlying data.

The headline average actually masks a startling range of individual figures. Twenty-one waste businesses had gender pay gaps in favour of men, with 13 of these being larger than 10% and four greater than 20%.

Meanwhile, 18 of the 41 firms analysed paid their average woman more than their average man, again based on median calculations**. At three of these companies, the pay gap in favour of women was at least 20%.

  • Top five waste median gender bonus gaps in favour of men:

Ubico 96%

Shield Environmental Services 78%

Grundon Waste Management 74.6%

LondonEnergy 68.2%

Olleco 58.9%

  • Top five waste male-dominated upper pay quartiles:

Erith Contractors 98.9% of high earners are men

Mick George 98.6%

Veolia ES Shropshire 95.9%

LondonEnergy 95.6%

Veolia ES Hampshire 95.3% 

It is clear that the impressive industry aver­age figure is just a midpoint between some extreme pay differentials in both directions. In fact, just two employers in the sector – Chel­tenham-based Ubico and Veolia ES Shropshire – had no median gender pay gap at all, and only six paid their average man and woman within 2% of each other.

Rosie Clarke, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at membership body Inclusive Employers, says a paucity of women in the waste sector could be behind the ‘unusual’ spread of gender pay results. Indeed, despite the extremely low average gender pay gap, men dominated not only the group of highest earn­ers in the sector but the pool of lowest paid too. When listing companies in order of the propor­tion of women in their top-paid quartile, the middle firm on the list had just 14.5% women in that group. Doing the same for the lowest paid quartile gave a surprisingly similar figure of 16% women.

This leads to the possibility that there just are so few women in the sector that, at many busi­nesses, a single high earner on the board can ramp up the median and lead to a reported pay gap in favour of women.

gender pay gap graphic

gender pay gap graphic

According to the Office for National Statis­tics, as of March this year, there were 101,000 men employed in the sector compared with 37,000 women. This includes full and part-time staff at waste collection, treatment and disposal businesses as well as remediation firms. It excludes the wholesale waste and scrap sector.

“If you don’t have a huge population of women then it is very hard to make compari­sons,” says Clarke. “Gender pay gap reporting is a good tool but it can give us false indications if we are not careful in how we interpret the data.”

No employer should be aiming to pay women more than men, she adds, and having large variances in both directions is certainly not the ambition for any sector: “We should be aiming for all companies to get as close as they can to 50:50 pay by gender. Consumers are both men and women, and we want staff mem­bers representative of customers.”

She says that a balance of genders on a pay­roll can be a commercial advantage, bringing insight and new ideas.

Professional body the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) insists the number of women working in the industry is increasing. Chief executive Colin Church says: “There is still an imbalance, but the last decade or so has seen a lot more women working in the sector in a wide range of jobs, from engineering through to law, sales and contract manage­ment, consultancy, communications and policy.

“This may be down to a greater choice of roles as the sector has made the transition from the traditional ‘transport and tip’ model to a ‘resource recovery’ industry linked in to wider agendas including circular economics, renew­able energy and sustainable development.”

  • Top five waste median gender pay gaps in favour of men:

Erith Contractors 39.4%

Donald Ward 35%

Countrystyle Recycling 23.4%

Reconomy (UK) 21.1%

Mid-UK Recycling 17.8%

  • Top five waste median gender pay gaps in favour of women:

Day Group 23.9%

Veolia ES Merseyside & Halton 23%

Bywaters (Leyton) 20%

William Tracey 18.1%

Patersons of Greenoakhill 14.6%

Church says more women are coming to its New Member Network, which offers opportu­nities to those new to the industry.

“However, there is still a long way to go, and eliminating the glass ceiling is a challenge that is common to many industry sectors, not just resource and waste management. ”

He calls for the waste industry to work harder to attract women: “Some firms are clearly leading the way, not just in terms of equal pay but in encouraging women into the sector. Perhaps these examples need to be shared more proactively, and there is certainly more work to be done with school leavers and students. This is a dynamic and innovative sector that often does not sell itself well enough.

“Other ways of encouraging new talent across the board [include] mentoring, net­working, and other professional development opportunities.”

Clarke urges waste employers to work out the causes of their gender pay inequality and take steps to counter it. Attracting and retain­ing female staff is important, she says, but so is developing them and not blocking them from senior, well-paid positions.

“Companies can think about their external brand, the job descriptions, the images on the side of lorries. What can they do to show young women that the company and industry is a possibility for them? Employers can look at women’s leadership programmes and mentor­ing. Creating a flexible environment for women is important – they still do the largest amount of care for children and elderly relatives.”

Even those companies with low pay gaps should be keeping their foot on the pedal when it comes to inclusivity, Clarke adds.

“There is no room for complacency in any­thing to do with diversity. Society has for hun­dreds of years been dominated by men; that’s our norm and we could easily return to it. If organisations have a low gender pay gap they need to keep working hard or there is potential for it to widen again.”

She adds that gender is just one aspect of equality: “There are also huge pay gaps due to race, disability, socioeconomic background. No-one is just female – there are other factors. We can think about what the barriers are to work and career development. I would encour­age employers to think more across the lines on gender, race and any other group.”

Oxfam was one of only two companies to have more women than men among its highest earners, and one of only three to have more women than men in its lowest earners. Around 40% of the charity’s UK staff work in its shops as part of the clothing recycling sector.

The charity says in a statement: “We take our gender pay gap seriously and have made a range of commitments to address the issue. We are proud that more than 60% of our managers and senior managers are women. We have twice the national average of women in information systems roles, twice the national average of men in part-time roles and 84% of our staff tell us that their flexible working needs are met. However, there are areas where we must do better.”

Veolia ES Merseyside & Halton had a 23% median pay gap in favour of women, while the waste giant’s Shropshire outfit had a zero pay gap and in Sheffield it was less than 3%.

Estelle Brachlianoff (pictured), senior executive vice-president for UK and Ireland, says: “We are proud of our programmes to increase diversity and inclusivity and this report, which accurately depicts our gender pay gap, helps to show we are heading in the right direction.

“In 2017 we were recognised for our efforts in hiring more employees from diverse social backgrounds – including young people not in education, employment or training, ex-offenders and former military personnel – by winning Veolia’s Global Social Initiatives award for social equity and diversity.

“We are also advancing our apprenticeship, female-focused leadership, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes.”

Trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA) adds in a statement: “It is positive to see that the waste and resource management industry performs well in terms of pay equality. However, the industry is not complacent. Many ESA members are working hard to increase gender diversity, as well as supporting its female employees to thrive.

“We hope the good performance on the gender pay gap will encourage more women to enter the sector.”

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