A quiet but significant revolution is underway in the gritty world of skip hire and waste management, where heavy machinery and hard hats have long been synonymous with the male workforce. Women are securing roles traditionally dominated by men, reshaping the landscape of the waste management industry.
Gender diversity in waste management industries like skip-hire has long been a challenge. Data has shed light on the underrepresentation of women in specialist roles and, industry surveys report that women constitute only 24% of the total waste management workforce in the US.
Historically, we can trace the reason for this gap back to several factors. One significant reason has been the physical nature of the work, often involving heavy lifting, manual labour, and the operation of machinery. These physical demands led to misconceptions that the field was better suited for men. Gender stereotypes have played a significant role, perpetuating the idea that women do not have the necessary skills or interest in waste management.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has invested extensively in research on the role of gender in waste management. They have deemed it critical to recognise the importance of promoting gender diversity in traditionally male-dominated fields such as skip hire, from gender diversity bringing a wealth of benefits such as providing diverse perspectives to addressing labour shortages that the industry faces.
However, the benefits of promoting gender diversity in the waste management sector aren't exclusive to women; they extend to their employers as well. According to a recent report by FP Analytics, "Women as Levers of Change,", companies that actively promote gender equality across all levels have demonstrated tangible positive business impacts. These include heightened competitiveness, increased profitability, and a stronger commitment to environmental responsibility.
As attitudes shift towards viewing "waste as a resource”, and the industry pivots away from landfilling towards waste prevention and circular economy principles, more women are discovering the sector as an appealing career choice. From skip truck drivers navigating city streets with finesse to women managing recycling, waste management and skip-hire companies and advocating for diversity, their contributions are reshaping the industry's future.
Nathalie van de Poel, Commercial Manager and co-creator of the Purified Metal Company (PMC) exemplifies a woman taking a leadership role in the waste management sector. PMC, a state-of-the-art processing plant situated in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, specialises in recycling hazardous steel scrap into premium raw material:
"The idea to recycle asbestos-contaminated steel was born 10 years ago." Overcoming countless obstacles, including securing €70 million in funding and hiring 30 employees, PMC has finally reached fruition. "It was a long journey, with some saying it was impossible, but we stayed strong and built a solid business case.”
Another example of women leading the way in waste management is Maria Willshee, a founding Director of Willshees, a Midlands-based waste and recycling business. Recognised as a Top 200 UK women-powered business by global private bank J. P. Morgan, Willshee's secured the 59th position in its annual UK Women-Powered Business Report.
And recognised in last year's list were sisters Heather Gould and Hilary Hart, principal owners of waste management specialist CSG. Based in Fareham, their four daughters also work as part of the business, while half of its eight directors are women.
Women like Nathalie van de Poel, Maria Willshee, Heather Gould and Hilary Hart aren't only contributing to recycling and waste management at the highest level; they are also making a difference at the community level. In 2018, the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) embarked on a groundbreaking global survey targeting women working within the waste sector. For the first time, this unique endeavour asked women to classify their work using Ad Lansink's waste hierarchy, often referred to as "Lansink's Ladder." The findings from 73 countries revealed that 51.6% of respondents were engaged in waste prevention, reuse/repair, and recycling. Highlighting the substantial role that women play as managers of household waste, their critical contributions form the backbone of responsible waste management and have a lasting impact on environmental sustainability and community well-being.
But how can we encourage more women into the industry as a whole? According to Skip Hire Glasgow specialist James David, fostering inclusivity in hiring practices is a good starting place.
Waste management and skip-hire companies can proactively embrace strategies to foster inclusivity in their hiring practices, by first recognising the importance of a diverse workforce. One such approach is reevaluating traditional hiring processes to be more inclusive. This includes rewriting job descriptions to emphasise skills and qualifications over gender or background, ensuring job postings reach a broader audience through diverse channels, and actively seeking out untapped talent pools. Skip hire companies that prioritise diversity not only bolster their internal culture but also project a positive image to the public and potential clients, positioning themselves as socially responsible and equality-driven businesses.
Partnerships with vocational schools and community organisations can play a pivotal role in encouraging individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to explore careers in waste management and skip hire for example. And this fresh approach, says James David of JustHire, is precisely what the industry needs:
“Inclusivity in hiring practices is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage that propels the skip hire industry forward. We should celebrate the women who are paving the way for a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse industry, for their inspiration and resilience. The further potential for women in waste management and skip hire is promising, and inclusive business practice and a heightened awareness of the positive impacts of gender equality on companies all present a win-win scenario.”
Companies that think creatively about investing in recruitment programs will ultimately benefit the most. By intentionally attracting a more diverse range of candidates, including more women, they can help transform the landscape of the waste management industry for the better.