The EIA Women's Council

THE TRADE ASSOCIATION THAT represents the waste industry must ensure that services and programs are available for women, as they become more active players in this business. Therefore, at WasteExpo 2003, the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), Washington, D.C., met with women waste industry executives from members of its subgroups, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC), to listen to comments on what services are needed to advance womens' businesses and professional goals.

The meeting attendees decided to form the EIA Women's Council, whose mission is the “professional advancement of women in the waste industry through meaningful and useful education, assistance, support and mentoring.”

Forming the EIA Women's Council was not an easy decision because most women in the waste business, or any other business, want to be recognized for their hard work and capabilities in a gender-neutral environment where sex is irrelevant to success and advancement. Creating a group that inherently recognizes women in business comes with the risk of being treated differently by the industry.

However, ignoring gender bias in the workplace illustrates a failure to see the differences between men and women in business and overlooks a woman's need for a forum in which to address business concerns in comfort. Without a forum, opportunities for women to gain the skills necessary to advance in the waste business will be limited. Achieving a gender-irrelevant business environment will not be possible.

The goal of the EIA Women's Council is to recognize differences, not to attack men. The council's goals are to help women overcome the learned behaviors that disadvantage them in business and to help them take advantage of other behaviors that will allow them to stand out.

For example, recent studies show that most men are virtually trained from birth to be “work-centered.” Conversely, many women want career opportunities but not necessarily a life dominated by work. In the workplace, these differences for women often appear as a lack of interest in the business. To be successful without having to “think like men,” women must find other ways of showing their worth, and the council will work to address such issues. The council also will discuss how women must learn to maneuver through the business world without being seen as too aggressive or wimpy.

In the discussions held at WasteExpo 2003, attendees specifically stated, as part of the council's goals, that all programs sponsored by the group would be open to everyone. In fact, many of the issues that women want addressed apply equally to men. For example, many women in the waste business do not have complete knowledge of how to maintain heavy equipment because there are few women mechanics. However, as managers, women are affected by and have an impact on company maintenance procedures and financing. Men in these same managerial positions also have a need for this knowledge and can take advantage of programs sponsored by the council.

Another “across-genders” theme that the council plans to examine is the struggle to balance child-rearing with career advancement. Although men and women sometimes have different roles in family life, both face challenges in defining their jobs as parents. The council hopes to address the issue, along with many other real-life situations, to help its membership.

The EIA Women's Council plans to hold two in-person educational programs and social networking opportunities each year. One will be held in the fall as part of EIA's Executive Roundtable conference. The second will be organized as a panel discussion during WasteExpo. Other educational programs for members will occur during the year and will be available through teleconferences.

For more information on the EIA Women's Council, or to get involved, call Alice Jacobsohn, EIA's director of public affairs and industry research, toll-free at (800) 424-2869. E-mail: [email protected].

Alice Jacobsohn is the director of public affairs and industry research for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.