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The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) Women's Council is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, a significant milestone for women’s role in this industry. However, data shows women are not attracted to “male-dominated industries” such as waste and recycling. Often, women see industries like these as a career dead end lacking the networking, professional development, and mentoring opportunities critical not just for career growth but also for a sense of belonging and being valued.
In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women made up only 15.5% of waste management and remediation services employees and 12.4% of the related sector, commercial transportation. Waste and recycling companies are taking notice. They need to broaden the talent pool as population growth stagnates and the Baby Boomer generation retires. They also must demonstrate in the boardroom and corner offices how their DE&I initiatives are moving beyond slogans and contributing to their overall Environment, Social and Governance metrics.
As a woman in the Waste and Recycling industry for 25 years, I am gratified to see how women are stepping into roles that they would not have considered in the past. I am also encouraged by the men who have rallied for this shift.
My colleague and President and CEO of WIN Waste Innovations Bob Boucher shared this perspective with me following a recent NWRA Women’s Council event. “Pam, as you know we have made significant improvements here at WIN driving our diversity and inclusion initiatives into the business. A diverse workforce brings a more valuable approach to problem-solving and decision-making. That’s not just anecdotal. A vast body of research shows that companies with more women in leadership tend to perform better on a myriad of measures, including marketplace performance, innovation, sustainability, retention, and many others. Plus, more and more household and business decision-makers — our customers — are women. We want more women at every level so we can bring diverse thought, experience, and perspective to continue to grow on our success.”
Bob’s comments exemplify that changes are afoot — but how do we make them stick? We need to encourage more companies like WIN Waste to recognize, celebrate, and act on what women bring to the table. We also need to help women find opportunities for growth, networking, and mentoring in and outside of the organizations that employ them.
The NWRA’s Women’s Council is one avenue for that. The Women’s Council has over 150 members who connect with one another professionally and personally through Council meetings and events and joining its committees. The Council offers professional development opportunities, mentoring and networking. One of the Women’s Council most revered successes is their scholarship program. To assist NWRA in attracting and retaining talent in the waste industry, the Women’s Council receives donations to provide scholarships to NWRA member company employees and their dependents who wish to use their education for a career in the waste and recycling industry. Eligible candidates may be full or part-time students including university, technical or trade school, and community college applicants. Since 2007, the Women's Council has given more than $360,000 in academic scholarships to more than 75 students.
Importantly, the Women’s Council seeks to advance and promote the Waste and Recycling industry through knowledge sharing and generating innovative ideas. Last year, members held a Boots on the Ground spotlight session at Waste Expo. A panel of female employees in various positions shared their experiences within the waste and recycling industry, including challenges faced, and new innovations and technology that have made their jobs easier. For the May 2023 Waste Expo, I am privileged in my role as current NWRA Women’s Council president to join a spotlight session on “Succeeding & Proceeding: A Generational Conversation with NWRA’s Women’s Council Past Presidents.” I along with the other panelists will share our experiences, insights, and challenges in this dynamic industry.
The Waste & Recycling industry has come a long way to attract and promote women in its ranks, from woman drivers, dispatchers, and mechanics to Health and Safety, recruiting, sales, and engineers. While the data shows there is room to grow to achieve true gender equality, there is enough momentum garnered through the networking opportunities and DE&I initiatives taking place throughout the industry to make it a reality in the not-too-distant future.