Women's Work

AT THE END OF 2002, Ellen Harvey, executive vice president of E.L. Harvey & Sons Inc., Westborough, Mass., set out to revive the Women's Council that had once been part of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA). When Harvey raised the issue with Bruce Parker, CEO of the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), the umbrella organization to NSWMA, he responded on behalf of EIA by providing $10,000 in seed money to restart the council.

About the same time, the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) also formed a Women's Council, at the urging of ISRI President Robin Weiner. As a result, two newly minted women's councils have begun promoting the interests of women in the waste and recycling industries.

Harvey chairs the new EIA Women's Council and is drawing on her experience with the previous NSWMA Women's Council. “I was part of the first women's council for the waste industry, which was formed in the 1980s,” Harvey says. “Sheila Prindiville, who was an executive with NSWMA, started that council. She gave a voice to women in the industry for the first time.”

In the early 1990s, Harvey became the group's representative for a four-member NSWMA educational panel that traveled nationwide to educate companies about the need for positive relations with the public. “Our goal was to help change a negative industry image prevalent at the time,” she says. For her efforts, Harvey received NSWMA's Governor's Award in 1994, given annually to individuals that make significant contributions to the industry.

After a promising beginning, however, the Women's Council slowly dismantled following Prindiville's retirement. But the revived council has quickly attracted more than 50 members who are interested in the mission of fostering professional advancement for women in the waste industry through education, assistance, support and mentoring.

“The council is helping to level the playing field for women working in this historically ‘old boys network’ industry,” says Xenya Mucha, a solid waste market manager for John Deere, Moline, Ill. “It gives women a way to learn from each other.”

The new council also has begun to define itself as an educational resource for the entire industry. During WasteExpo 2004, for example, the Women's Council sponsored a speaker who addressed the different ways that men and women communicate, and related those differences to executive, managerial and supervisory roles in the waste industry. The council also has organized several panels to examine industry issues, including legislative proposals and waste company management.

“We believe that education is always key in any industry career,” says Ellen Flood, public affairs administrator with IESI in Haltom City, Texas, and a Women's Council member. “Knowledge builds value. And there is a strong education focus in the programs that the Women's Council develops.”

ISRI's Women's Council also serves in an educational capacity, but has a different goal — to be so effective that it puts itself out of business. The EIA Women's Council aims to become a permanent educational resource for EIA. “Our council isn't meant to be a permanent forum for women that is redundant with other association activities,” Weiner says.

Weiner formed the ISRI Women's Council one year ago to provide a forum for women to meet and discuss industry issues. “We've had a very strong response,” she says. “We've attracted 65 members. The vast majority are women, but we're certainly open to men as well.”

Weiner says that women are entering the recycling industry in growing numbers, but they often are not sure where to find information about the industry or the association. The council was formed as a way to help women learn about the industry and the association. “Everyone was adamant that this would not become a clique separate from the association,” Weiner says. “Instead, [we wanted] a forum to learn and to integrate into the association as a whole. We all hope that a couple of years from now, women will have found ways to fit into the industry and the association, and that there will no longer be a need for the Women's Council.”

At the ISRI Conference in April 2005, the new ISRI Women's Council will host its first function, a workshop called “Generations at Work” that will explore how different generations approach the workplace. The Council also will hold a networking reception and annual meeting at the convention.

Whether a permanent or temporary resource, women's councils illustrate the growing influence of women in the waste and recycling industries — two businesses that have been traditionally governed by men.