8 March 2024

International Women's Day 2024

There is no getting away from the fact that historically and in some areas still today the waste and resource recovery (WARR) industry is dominated by males. Traditionally a labour-intensive industry requiring physical strength, it naturally drew more men than women. In recent years this has started to change.  A couple of factors have possibly led to this – for example in a number of areas, the industry has become more automated and less manual thereby reducing the physical nature of the work. Secondly, the industry has diversified away from the traditional linear approach primarily relying on landfilling towards multiple facets of resource recovery. Further, traditionally we would have seen a significant number of male engineers, however, there has been a lot of work being done by universities and schools to promote STEM and engineering as a career for women too.  The fact that WARR has diversified into a high-tech recycling and recovery, with a real emphasis on sustainability and circular economy outcomes means it’s a vastly different industry in 2024 from 1974 and even 1994. 

According to data released last week by the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) just 20% of workers covered by WGEA in the waste collection, treatment and disposal industry are female. The percentage split is lower for CEOs at 11%, however in administration it balloons to 82% (still possibly seen as the 'traditional’ female career path?) However, the real hope for equality in the sector is employment among so-called professionals - where 41% of employees are female.  

This data does demonstrate that our industry is heading in the right direction, however, more always needs to be done.  

WMRR understands the important role we play as the peak national Association, in supporting professionalism and the growth of our industry, and we recognise that, as Danielle Wood, the Productivity Commissioner, said in her 2023 Press Club address, harnessing “the full utilisation of one of the most educated, energetic and capable cohorts - women" is vital for Australia's productivity.  WMRR is keen to highlight the opportunities that exist in our essential industry, and possibly break down some of the barriers to attracting, retaining and promoting more females in WARR. This is in part why we deliver a national series of Women’s Leadership Breakfasts to both demonstrate and celebrate the diversity that exists in the industry.   

However, we also know at WMRR that IWD cannot and must not, be restricted to a single day or event, it must always be part of our continuous efforts for sustainable economic growth and gender equality. As part of fostering the next generation of #WARRiors, we thought we would take this opportunity to showcase some of the current women leaders who kindly dedicate their time, giving back to industry as active WMRR members. We asked our female WMRR directors, branch presidents and vice presidents, working group chairs and vice chairs to take part, and this is what some of them had to say. 

Below is the flavour of the remarks. Click on each individual’s name to see their full responses. 

“If I was giving advice to other women, younger especially, I’d say that they are what inspire me to do better and that their skills and intelligence are remarkable – so own it and use it.” - Isabel Axiö, Senior Consultant at RMCG and WMRR Board Member  

“Not only have I changed, but the industry has changed too. It is easier to call out poor behaviour, you are more supported, and more often than not the poor behaviour happens less in the first place.” - Alix Baltais, Area Manager at EnviroCom Australia, WMRR Queensland Waste Educator Working Group Chair  

“I believe the number of female leaders in the WARR sector will grow as the complexity of our sector is recognised and, therefore, more women are attracted to join the sector.” - Katherine Dodd, General Manager and Principal Consultant MRA Consulting Group and WMRR NSW Branch Vice President  

“I have come from the Local Government waste education area where the (usually male) management referred to us as ‘pixies who spread pixiedust’ for the first few years... I have addressed that by continuing to show the importance of the work we do, showing ongoing professionalism and hard-headedness and by putting a visual ‘no pixie’ sign up in the office (humour and visuals help!)” - Libby Eustance, Acting CEO of Western Metropolitan Regional Council, WMRR WA Vice President   

“Encouraging the development of future leaders, regardless of gender, is vital for improving and innovating in the waste industry. Establishing inclusive workplaces and offering training opportunities are important to support career development.” - Amy Henshaw, Senior Waste Management Project Officer at City of Port Adelaide Enfield Council and WMRR SA Young Professionals Chair   

“A career in WARR is more glamorous than you might think. It offers diverse avenues for interests and career growth. You won't regret it!” - Leah Maxwell, Executive Officer at Adelaide Hills Region Waste Management Authority and WMRR SA/NT Resource Recovery and Market Development Working Group Chair  

“Consider how to keep building flexibility into roles – in work schedules and also by further reviewing opportunities for sharing out responsibilities in more senior roles to aid more balanced hours – to assist more women to apply directly and also to help senior men with being able to participate in home responsibilities.” - Tiana Nairn, Group Manager, Policy at LMS Energy and WMRR SA/NT Branch President  

“For me International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come. My workplace today is a much different place from the one I entered as a new graduate and the changes have all been for the better.” - Hayley Rolfe, Technical Director – Circular Economy at GHD and WMRR WA Circular Economy Chair  

“Promoting the success and opportunity of all future leaders regardless of their gender, their age, the areas or departments that they lead, and the regions in which they work will see our industry continue to flourish in its diversity and its strengths.” - Lacey Webb, CEO and Principal Consultant at ResourceHub and WMRR Queensland Branch Vice President  

“Seeking out mentorship opportunities and connecting with other women in the industry proved invaluable. They served as role models and sources of inspiration, providing me with invaluable insights, guidance, and support.” - Cecilia Wu, Business Development Manager at Veolia and WMRR NSW Young Professionals Chair  

“We need to start very early to encourage girls and young women to pursue their interests and not be guided by gender stereotypes, be that in the selection of study subjects (maths, physics, engineering), careers or to have the goal of a leadership role.” - Bettina Zimmermann, Senior Environmental Geologist at GDH and WMRR Resource Recovery and Market Development Working Group Vice Chair

I hope you enjoy their contributions as much as I did and happy International Women’s Day 2024.  

Gayle Sloan