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Learn to be yourself

When I knew I wanted to work in the waste and the construction sector, being a woman did not seem to be a huge barrier. Granted, women may not find it easy to take part in the labour-intensive side of the sector, but the academic side can be managed equally by men or women. I feel more than qualified to advise my clients across all of my specialisms, which include waste minimisation and site waste management planning.

The waste sector today is very different from what it was: the industry is huge.

There was a time when women needed to appear stern and masculine in their approach to working in the waste industry, but this is no longer the case. I think men have finally come to terms with their female colleagues. There are some amazing female presences in the waste industry, some of whom I have the privilege of knowing.   

I think that being a woman aids my success rather than hinders it. In March this year, I won the coveted Outstanding Woman in Construction Award, which confirmed the beliefs I hold in my ability to perform in a male-dominated sector.

We could argue that the battle of the sexes is not obsolete if awards exclusively for women in the sector still remain. After all, I have not heard of any Men in Construction Awards.

But the key to making it in the waste industry, as in any other, is simply to know your stuff. If you bring to the table a wealth of knowledge, understanding, research and suggestions, people will listen and you will be heard.  

Education, drive, focus and passion are also important. I landed a sought-after position at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management as technical officer in part because I was enthusiastic in my interview. 

The industry needs women who are not afraid to be themselves. I definitely do not change to fit in with a male crowd. Just because I arrive at a meeting in a dress and heels does not make me any less equipped to present my case or close a deal.

I set up my own business not long after having a child so, as a new mum, there was a lot of pressure. Women do have more to contend with as they are often managing the home as well as a job or business. I have had to learn a lot about time management,

and I work hard to ensure I have time with my daughter and family as well as spending time on and in my business.

I hope it shows my daughter that you can have it all and you do not have to choose or sacrifice to be successful as a woman.

There has been debate in the past about how the lack of women in the City has contributed to the economic crisis. I doubt this is directly related, but I do believe that men and women have different strengths. Projects work at their best when roles are delegated to a team that includes members of both genders.

Lara Ayris, managing director and co-founder of Waste Plan Solutions

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