AshBritt's CEO Brittany Perkins Castillo Spearheads Women-Focused Industry InitiativesAshBritt's CEO Brittany Perkins Castillo Spearheads Women-Focused Industry Initiatives
This Women’s History Month, Waste360 is chatting with female leaders in the waste and recycling industry, to get their perspectives on how they got into the industry; how we might attract more women to the field; current challengesand more.
March 9, 2022
This Women’s History Month, Waste360 is chatting with female leaders in the waste and recycling industry, to get their perspectives on how they got into the industry; how we might attract more women to the field; current challenges and more.
First up: Meet Brittany Perkins Castillo, CEO of AshBritt, a leading disaster recovery, emergency management, and logistics firm. As CEO, Castillo has prioritized building inclusivity and equality in the heavily male-dominated industry of emergency management — and believes women are the strongest positioned to ensure that, in the wake of disaster, a community is brought back better for the families it serves. In addition, she has spearheaded nationwide initiatives to provide young women in the emergency management and waste fields with career-development resources.
Waste360: Can you tell us more about the work you and your colleagues do at AshBritt?
Castillo: AshBritt is an emergency management and logistics company. With AshBritt’s recent, historic award from the Department of Defense — which, covering 25 U.S. states and 162 million Americans, is the largest pre-position emergency debris management contract in history — we celebrate our 30-year anniversary in 2022 as the nation’s leading company in our space, as well as the largest woman-led company.
Waste management and remediation following major disaster events is AshBritt’s core business. Over our history, we have been involved in recovery efforts of more than 60 federally declared disasters in 22 states — and managed and disposed over 171 million cubic yards of debris, including vegetative, construction and demolition materials, hazardous waste, environmental waste, e-waste, etc. Key debris missions include 21 million cubic yards, Hurricane Katrina; 3 million cubic yards, Hurricane Sandy; 775,000 tons, 2017 northern California wildfires. Year-round, AshBritt works closely with our waste and recycling partners, coordinating pre-event planning, capacity planning, and coordinating trucking and rail operations.
Waste360: How did the pandemic affect your work?
Castillo: Debris management is what AshBritt is known for, but we do a lot more as a full-scale emergency operations company. During the pandemic, AshBritt’s logistics division built and operated field hospitals and COVID-19 vaccination and testing operations across 20 states, contracting for over 1.75 million vaccinations. We also construct and manage shelters and temporary housing, provide temporary power and fuel generation, and manage environmental and biohazard clean-up operations. We are experts in emergency response and are called on to support communities, business, and government in their time of need, including being engaged by U.S. Presidents and foreign Ambassadors.
Waste360: What obstacles do you see in attracting women to this field?
Castillo: The industry is at a unique, transitional moment, where we can flip the script on a previously male-dominated field. I’ve been fortunate to witness this firsthand and can say confidently that the opportunities significantly outweigh the challenges. We have the first female FEMA administrator, Deanne Criswell, and strong leadership —women and men — across our industry. Here at AshBritt — and across the industry more broadly — we need to capitalize on this momentum and support more training opportunities, paid internships, and educational programs. We are working to advance more public-private partnerships that connect interested women (and men!) to jobs in the field.
Waste360: What percentage of your company's employees are female, and how does that compare to the industry in general?
Castillo: During my six years as CEO, I am proud to have a few significant milestones: $2 billion in revenue, two of AshBritt’s best performing years, new divisions, supporting communities across the country during the pandemic and employing hundreds of people during an otherwise trying time. Equal to these accomplishments is taking a key company value since AshBritt’s inception — diversity — and incorporating that value into our strategic plan to better measure and track our outcomes. The results show that we have tripled the number of women on AshBritt’s leadership team; we have grown more intentional about how, where, and with what content we recruit; we have increased diversity across age, professional background, geography, and gender. The outcomes also show that we still need work with our operations and field teams. These metrics drive our current priorities.
For an industry comparison, empirical data suggests AshBritt is a clear leader in the debris side of our industry. Hard data is tougher to come by given the various sectors our industry touches.
Waste360: What steps have you taken to attract more women to this field?
Castillo: I am excited to highlight three projects I am working on.
First, working with other industry leaders, I launched “women in emergency management” discussions at major industry conferences including the National Hurricane Conference and state conferences in Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
Second, AshBritt launched a partnership with Broward College and Pace Center for Girls to establish a certificate program in Emergency Management. The program will be offered at Broward College starting fall of 2022; from March 2022-July 2022, AshBritt and Pace via PaceWorks are leading a pre-program focused on engaging young women in emergency management, waste management and public works industries.
Third, this month I am launching WTFem, an online source for resources, data, and profiles on women in emergency management and the related fields of waste management, public works, and first responders. WTFem is intended to evoke a lighthearted jab at the industry need for diversity, but what the website shows is the strength of our industry’s support for women and diversity in general.
WTFem.org displays hundreds of links to resources, from degree and certificate programs to current news and labor force statistics to respected industry mentorship programs. I am particularly excited about WTFem’s resume support section. I am frequently asked to review resumes from our hiring teams, our interns, or my mentees. The need to better capture disaster response experience and the skills learned in the field is a recurring theme. WTFem resume support connects people with emergency management experience to experts in our field, including hiring managers.
Waste360: Is any of the work at AshBritt a particular challenge for women to handle?
Castillo: It depends on the woman! There are still a lot of people who don’t see themselves or their daughters out in the field, driving trucks, or operating equipment; for those women, that dynamic is a challenge. A lot of opportunities for advancement in the industry require time deployed, often with little notice; for women who are caretakers, that dynamic presents a challenge. I have two kids under three. It has been hard to adjust to a new leadership style, one more grounded in my home office than the field. The reality is that for women to get up and go, it takes a lot more work behind-the-scenes than often accounted for in business.
Waste360: How did you personally arrive in this field and ultimately in this position? What challenges did you face?
Castillo: I was enjoying a career that included international project management and a robust law practice when the leadership opportunity arose at AshBritt. I spent a few months working with the AshBritt Board and in personal reflection. I had deep pride for what the family-owned business had become—a dynamic business, a respected industry pioneer—and deep excitement for what I was uniquely positioned to do to take Ashbritt to the next level.
The timing was right to begin at AshBritt as CEO. I was fortunate to join a team of industry leaders, many who had been at the company for over a decade. Six years in, and I cannot imagine any other path. I love this company, the people, our mission—our work makes a real difference in people’s lives.
Waste360: What types of disasters are the most challenging to manage for your company?
Castillo: No matter the type of disaster, witnessing the impact to people lives and the destruction of property always presents the greatest challenge.
For our team, disasters that occur at home are often some of the most difficult to manage. Emergency management is high stress and 24/7 during the initial response and operations ramp-up. It is hard to fully step away from responsibilities at home and manage a crisis when you are in your bed each night. While most people do not like weeks or months away, being home often presents management challenges.