Addressing Diversity and Gender Issues in the Waste & Recycling Workplace

Two industry pros share how the waste and recycling sector can work to overcome the current diversity and gender issues in the workplace.

Mallory Szczepanski, Vice President of Member Relations and Publications

February 28, 2017

4 Min Read
Addressing Diversity and Gender Issues in the Waste & Recycling Workplace

Achieving diversity in the waste and recycling industry is no easy task. Since its inception, the industry has been male dominated and recruitment is often done word-of-mouth. But with a shortage of drivers and talented employees, companies need to take the necessary strides to recruit long-term, dedicated employees and to create diverse work environments.

Going into 2017 and beyond, experts say the industry will need to focus on how to recruit and mentor the best employees for key positions, how to bridge the employee age gap, how to equalize the industry to recruit more women, how to create effective succession planning techniques and how to make potential industry employees aware of the challenges and rewards inherent in the sector.

Waste360 recently spoke with Charlie Kimmel, president and CEO of Kimmel and Associates, and Michele Ryder, vice president of sales and marketing at Werlor Waste Control, about how the industry can work to overcome the current diversity and gender issues in the workplace. Kimmel and Ryder will team up to speak about this topic at WasteExpo in New Orleans on May 8 for their session, “Diversity & Gender Issues in the Workplace.”

The Age Gap

The current job market is incredibly tight, and there is a lack of talent and interest in the industry right now, according to Kimmel. When the most recent recession came, a large number of employees left the industry and now that the economy is better, companies are having hard time trying to fill in the employment gap with talented employees.

“In the industry, we are seeing a lot of successful companies hiring employees they normally wouldn’t consider for positions based on their age,” says Kimmel. “These companies are bringing in people who have already retired, for example, to fill the employment gap because they are dependable and willing to travel to take care of any problem that needs to be taken care of. But these actions are only a temporary solution to the problem, and a lot of companies are missing the boat when it comes to achieving a long-term solution.”

The long-term solution, according to Kimmel, is to reach out to the technical schools, high schools and colleges to educate students about the industry and the career paths that are available, whether it’s an internship or full-time employment. It’s very rare that students learn about all of the different opportunities available in the waste and recycling industry at job fairs or recruitment sites and more companies need to get out into the field to educate the next generation of workers on the long-term benefits that come with being a member of the waste and recycling industry.

“One of the best ways to recruit the younger generation is by mentoring them. A lot of older generation employees want to give back and mentoring allows them to share their knowledge base and best practices with the younger generation,” says Kimmel. “Mentoring allows the younger generation to receive hands-on experience and knowledge of the industry, and it also allows the younger generation to teach the older generation about new technologies and how to maintain a work-life balance.”

A Balanced Workplace

Industries are making greater efforts to survey the communities around them and to cater to their needs. And according to Ryder, the waste and recycling industry needs to more effectively market to all sexes and ethnicities to increase market share and drive economic growth.

“As an industry, we need to foster an attitude of openness and have in-house industry advocates who can champion for balanced environments within their organizations. We need to increase the creativity and method for solving problems in the workplace, and one of the ways to do that is by combining the leadership styles of men and women,” says Ryder.

While the industry is mostly made up of male employees, there are more and more opportunities for women to enter the waste and recycling industry today than there was years ago. But even though there are endless opportunities in the industry for both men and women, the industry isn’t catching the eye of many female job candidates because the industry is often portrayed as a “dirty and manly” job, according to Ryder.

“The female hiring programs in our industry right now are insufficient to create a good balance over the next decade, and we need to develop solutions that will impact the industry long term. We need to improve our hiring processes, and we need to start implementing better policies and practices for promoting and protecting the environment. After all, that is what this industry is about.”

The industry also has many moving parts and is very competitive, which many people outside the industry may not be aware of. The waste and recycling industry, which is ever-evolving, constantly challenges both men and women to come up with new creative and effective solutions to better manage waste and recycling, whether that’s through a new program or a new technology.

“The waste and recycling industry is right for the best and the brightest right now because there isn’t a lot of competition to break into the industry, and there isn’t a log jam at the top for new college graduates to get a job. There’s a lot of opportunity in this industry, and this industry isn’t going anywhere,” says Kimmel.


About the Author(s)

Mallory Szczepanski

Vice President of Member Relations and Publications, NWRA

Mallory Szczepanski was previously the editorial director for Waste360. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where her research focused on magazine journalism. She also has previously worked for Contract magazine, Restaurant Business magazine, FoodService Director magazine and Concrete Construction magazine.

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