09 Mar 2017

A lack of gender diversity in the solid waste and recycling sector is slowing the industry’s opportunity to evolve. With few to zero women on most large solid waste and recycling company’s leadership teams, this industry is challenged when it comes to attracting young and talented women to take on roles historically occupied by men.  This leads to companies missing out on the innovation and creative solutions that diversity can provide.

Garbage has historically been a “man’s job” and this cultural stereotype has been slow to change in our society.  Hence, the term “garbageman.”  But as the role of the garbageman changes, we have started to see more women in the trucks, on the sort line, in environment and engineering, and overseeing operations.  However, this isn’t reflected in this industry’s leadership.   A quick check of the top 9 waste firm’s executive leadership teams shows that out of 52 possible “Officer” positions, only 4 belonged to women.  And Republic Services accounts for half of those women in executive positions.  

Why should companies care about having a woman’s perspective in the C-Suite?  One reason is that women are the world’s most powerful consumer. 70-80% of all consumer purchasing is driven by women, through a combination of their buying power and influence, according to global professional services firm EY. When it comes to typical household items that will eventually make their way to the curb for recycling, that purchasing power is even higher.  But women aren’t only choosing what to buy, they’re choosing what, when, and how these items are discarded.

So, why hasn’t the industry evolved to meet the world’s evolving landscape?  Well, one can point to the trickle down effects of having only men in top leadership positions.  When women don’t have other female leaders to look up to, they simply can’t see themselves in those positions in the future.  Similarly, it paints a picture for female middle managers that only men can successfully fulfill leadership needs.  This can not only lead to a loss of diversity but also a loss in morale and an increase in company turnover for an industry that still fights a “boys club” reputation.  

Bottom line: you can’t reach zero waste with zero women leading the charge, and here is why:

Achieving zero waste requires creative thinking and innovative solutions.  To achieve this will require a diversity at the top.  Some examples of women leading this charge are:

Paula Lobaccaro, Technical Lead on designing the Zera Food Recycler.  This innovative product reduces food waste by over two-thirds its original volume through a fully automated process, by converting it to compost. The result is ready-to-use fertilizer within 24 hours that can be spread on your lawn, outdoor plants, and garden.

Or, how about Always Trendy, a system that allows a person to remake their old clothes into newer, trendier garments ready to wear. As an added benefit, the machine also takes in your old clothes and uses the materials to create the new outfits ordered. Zero Waste is the brainchild of Karolin Kõrge, an undergraduate student in the Department of Product Design at The Estonian Academy of Arts.

You see, collection and processing companies act largely as middlemen (or women) between household discards and their final resting place; whether at a landfill or as a new product.  And in an economy where cutting out the middleman is the foundation for many start-ups, the solid waste and recycling industry is wrought with opportunity for innovative entrepreneurs.

The point is, if this industry wants to evolve, to tackle the world’s wastefulness problem, to achieve “zero waste” and commoditize the waste stream; it is vital to focus on marketing to, educating, and integrating women into its ranks.  From drivers to CEO’s, the solid waste and recycling industry will see more innovation, thoughtful solutions, and consumer focused decision making when it welcomes women into the c-suite.

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