CIWM’s newly established EDI working group believes a diverse workforce can positively influence the sector. Liza Salazar explores the role female representation plays in this, and profiles some inspiring women, who share their journeys and goals.

In recognition of the value that diverse voices and viewpoints bring to all its endeavours, CIWM has established the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) working group.

The group’s chair, Gill Mulroe FCIWM, says addressing EDI will help CIWM and the wider sector to become more successful, by encouraging a diverse workforce that reflects its members and the communities it serves, resulting in a more innovative, productive environment.

As well as helping to positively influence the sector, diversity and inclusion – which can encompass cultural differences and disability, as well as ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation – supports best practice to tackle global challenges, such as climate change, Mulroe says.

‘We need a more diverse group of people working together, looking at – and addressing – these challenges  because people from diverse and under-represented groups are likely to be impacted the most,’ she says. ‘So, furthering EDI work is more important than ever in the context of climate change and meeting zero-carbon goals.’

In the past, I’ve worked in predominantly male teams… Not having a female role model meant I didn’t have that person to whom I could relate, to inspire me to aim higher and to rise through the profession, or who understood my particular challenges.

One aspect of EDI that the group hopes to bring to the fore is the importance of female representation within the resources sector, a sector which is sometimes perceived as gender imbalanced.

Mulroe, who started in the industry 14 years ago selling wheelie bins and is now a CIWM Fellow and, recently, a Chartered Environmentalist, says a lack of female role models has had an impact on her career.

‘In the past, I’ve worked in predominantly male teams,’ she says. ‘Not having a female role model meant I didn’t have that person to whom I could relate, to inspire me to aim higher and to rise through the profession, or who understood my particular challenges. Luckily, I have had some fantastic male mentors through my career.’

The resources industry has, historically, lost a lot of female talent to other sectors that have higher female representation, which may share their values more visibly, adds Mulroe.

So, the EDI group’s aim is to remove barriers hindering inclusion and equality, and work to create positive change within the sector. ‘It’s important to create safe places for people to be able to speak up and not feel judged or minimised, and, instead, bring people with different experiences and backgrounds together.’

To showcase the abundant female talent in the resources sector – and to highlight the importance of female representation as part of CIWM’s EDI work – we profile some inspiring women, who explain their journeys, motivations and goals.

Dr Anna Willetts, partner, Gunnercooke

My lovely dad, Stephen, was my inspiration to work in the waste industry. When he worked at Steetley, he used to come home from quarries with beautiful pieces of quartz and fool’s gold, and explain to me how they were formed, how quarries worked, and how they were filled in with waste once excavated. I did my school work experience with his company, Leigh Environmental, visiting the rubber-crumbing facility, tramping over landfill sites, and working in the laboratory at Four Ashes on waste sampling and analysis.

All this led me to my degree in geology at Manchester University. I went slightly off the waste piste for a few years when I joined the Officers’ Training Corps and thought I might enjoy a career in the army, but a hydrogeology lecturer put me back on track with the suggestion of a PhD in geochemistry. I saw the light and agreed to study landfill clay liners and their chemical interactions with leachate.

Dad told me at this point that, if I was going to go into the waste industry, I should join CIWM – so, I did what I was told, of course, and joined in 1999, while a student.

Now, as a waste defence lawyer, having slightly changed career from a consultant, my clients get me out of bed each morning, so to speak.

I love working with them, helping them and dealing with the intricacies of technical waste law on their behalf – to, hopefully, make their lives in the waste industry easier and more manageable.

Dr Anne Velenturf, research impact fellow in circular economy, University of Leeds

I always wanted to do something practical and, initially, trained in zookeeping and nature conservation. I soon realised that nature can take care of itself, but that people had to change. So, it was back to school, and I studied ecology with specialisations in sustainable consumption and participatory governance.

In the Netherlands, it’s so crowded that every piece of land has multiple functions. You want to restore nature? Then you also have to support water management, agriculture, tourism and much more. It’s no wonder that the ‘polder model’ to find solutions with multiple stakeholders finds its roots there.

Restoring nature, however, also proves sensitive to the economy. When the global economy crashed in 2008, the knock-on effects to the environmental sector were perfectly timed with my graduation. After a year in consultancy, I secured a PhD position to analyse how collaborations develop in industrial symbiosis networks, and how governance and market conditions co-evolve with such waste-to-resource synergies in the Humber region.

The most important thing in enabling radical change is to keep talking with each other and try to understand where we are coming from.

After my doctorate, I started a consultancy in circular and bio-economy, which still runs. There is not much time for consultancy, though, because, since 2016, I lead the Resource Recovery from Waste programme.

It was a huge challenge to run such a large programme with the ambition to change how wastes and resources are managed in the UK. It has been a fantastic journey, though – one in which I feel I have become part of the wonky resource sector family. We have achieved a lot in the past five years, and introduced numerous radical changes into government strategy and industry practice.

The most important thing in enabling radical change is to keep talking with each other and try to understand where we are coming from. Everyone has a different view on circular economy, and, in the end, we have to ‘polder’ and make our resource management more sustainable together. Now that the Resource Recovery from Waste programme has finished, I hope to support the transition to a sustainable circular economy for much longer, wherever my career takes me.

Megha Shah CRWM, construction project manager, Suez Recycling and Recovery UK

My route into the resource management industry was through my MBA internship with Suez, exploring the potential of setting up wind-energy farms on its landfill sites.

During this time, I became fascinated by the work that is involved in putting waste to good use. It was from there that I decided to join Suez full time.

Since then, I’ve been in Suez’s development team, leading and winning public-private partnership and private finance initiative bids, and working on market development (alternative fuels), before moving into the construction team, where I currently work as a project manager.

Putting sustainability into practice is what drives me. I like the buzz of being involved in complex projects, making things happen, and working with a diverse range of people who come together to deliver a common goal. Being able to make a difference to the planet is a key driver for me.

It’s an exciting time for the waste and resource sector. The entire industry is undergoing massive change, with various policy consultations on Extended Producer Responsibility, Deposit Return Scheme and so on, against the wider backdrop of net-zero carbon targets and green investments.

I think we have the ability to make a sustainable world happen, and I definitely want to be a part of it, using my skills to bring value.

Vicki Hughes FCIWM, group business development director, Enva Wood Recycling

I started my career in the manufacturing sector and quickly rose to become a general manager by the age of 30. With a strong background in sales and marketing, I set up my own business development consultancy in 2004 with the aim of helping SMEs to identify growth opportunities. It was as a consultant that I was introduced to Hadfield Wood Recyclers.

My work with Hadfield led me to take up a full-time position and, ultimately, become a director and shareholder. During this time, I played a pivotal role in growing Hadfield into a company operating across four sites with a turnover of £20m by the time it was acquired by Enva in 2018.

Throughout my career, I have remained committed to developing and promoting people from within, believing businesses are best served by identifying the right roles for good people. This is evidenced by the fact that all but one of my direct reports have been promoted from within Enva.

I was recently recognised with a CIWM Fellowship for my contribution as a Trustee. I am also the first person to be seconded to the board of the Wood Recyclers’ Association as technical lead, for my work supporting the trade body on two major projects.

My ambition is to promote young talent both within Enva and the wider recycling and resource management sector. Within this lies a particular commitment to addressing gender imbalance in senior roles and a willingness to lead the way for young women, helping them plot a pathway through what remains a male-dominated industry.

Harriet Parke FCIWM, senior consultant, Eunomia Research & Consulting

I’ve been interested in people’s impact on the environment, and the complex and integrated systems of our world, for as long as I can remember. When I was at school, I aspired to be ‘just like Swampy’ (an environmental activist) when I grew up.

While my current role involves fewer trees and chains, I’m proud to be working at Eunomia Research & Consulting, where we’re led by our values and deliver high impact work to improve environmental outcomes. I lead our market assessment and due diligence work, helping clients to understand markets and policies and develop future-looking strategies.

I got into the resources sector through an environmental geography degree. While my course covered waste and resources policy and I led a number of student campaigns as environment officer, I had no idea that my professional career would take the route it has. My first role after graduating was as a waste liaison officer at a local authority. Luckily, I found a sector I found incredibly interesting, dynamic and full of opportunities to make positive change.

I’ve spent the past 10 years in consulting roles and am driven by the continual new challenges and developments in the way we manage our resources. There’s a clear urgency to develop and deliver solutions to the complex climate and ecological emergencies that people have created. I don’t know exactly what’s on the horizon for me, but my aim is to continue to drive positive change for both people and planet, and having a diverse and inclusive sector is essential to this.

Dr Chindarat Taylor FCIWM, founder and director, Resource Efficiency Pathway

I am the founder and director of Resource Efficiency Pathway, a consultancy that provides advice on the development of waste and waste-to-energy infrastructure in the UK and the Asia Pacific.

I started my career in the petrochemicals industry, with ICI, before moving into joint-venture management with BP and, subsequently, working as a business consultant. After this, I moved into the resources and waste-management sector when I became director of the innovative Pathway To Zero Waste Programme at the UK Environment Agency.

Developing partnerships is critical for successful project delivery and I am seeking to develop more collaborations between Thai companies and technology organisations globally

Having worked in the UK for more than 15 years, I am now based in Bangkok, Thailand, with frequent travel to the UK and other countries.

I am vice-president of the Solid Waste Management Association Thailand and chair of the country’s Plastic Footprint Reduction Project. This is a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, and aims to reduce plastic use and implement the circular economy of plastics. We partner with private, public and education sectors in Thailand to develop best practice and incorporate technological innovations.

I am passionate about the environment and sustainability. There are many opportunities and challenges for this sector. Developing partnerships is critical for successful project delivery and I am seeking to develop more collaborations between Thai companies and technology organisations globally.

Dr Margaret Bates FCIWM, executive director, OPRL

I was doing my undergraduate degree in applied biology when I first got into wastes. We were given the opportunity to help on research and consultancy field trips; as it included free food and drink, I volunteered.

After a few times, I was hooked – wherever you are in the world, whether you are rich or poor, waste impacts on you. I was lucky these trips led to a placement at Porton Down and then a PhD at the University of East London.

After my PhD, I worked in academia for many years, enjoying the freedom and diversity of my work, going from advising a small Northamptonshire business on waste minimisation and recycling to training the informal sector in Nigeria on the health impacts of improper e-waste management.

Just over a year ago, I left the university (although I am still a visiting professor) and became the executive director of OPRL. It has been a steep learning curve, but I have enjoyed learning more about the recyclability of packaging, working with the materials sectors and our members to drive the transformation to sustainable packaging.

I feel privileged to have found a career in which you can make a real difference; it is never boring and never static. Wherever I have worked, I have been lucky to enjoy the support and encouragement of some amazing people – in particular, Kay Twitchen and Gill Weeks, who were particularly supportive when I was relatively new.

Dr Purva Tavri MCIWM, researcher and consultant, and steering committee member, Island Waste Management Global Alliance

It was 2010 when I came to the UK from India. As a Bachelor in architecture, and Master’s in environmental planning, my passion and dedication have always been towards sustainability. It was here that I first got into the waste and resource industry; the sophisticated waste-recycling systems (compared to India) drove me to gain further experience and knowledge.

My background studies in the built environment enabled me to get into the construction industry, where I learned about the various aspects of construction waste management and recognised a gap – reuse/reclaim. Conducting cost and carbon benefit analysis of reuse was part of my role, and it made me wonder why, despite making financial sense, reuse/reclaim is not as normal practice as recycling.

Reuse has been part and parcel of my life. In India, I was brought up in a family where we always reused stuff. Reuse behaviour is not just limited to the household level – even in construction projects, I never saw any leftover items going into skips.

The recognised gap encouraged me to go for a PhD to explore UK organisations’ perception of reuse materials. This was part-time, so I could keep a foot in the industry while expanding my academic skills.

Currently, I am a doctorate and a Chartered Waste Manager working as an independent consultant for construction, academia and the charity sector, and a built environment researcher at ReLondon. I aspire to continue learning and sharing the ways of achieving self-sustainability and circularity.

Victoria Halford MCIWM, environmental and industrial risk adviser, Suez Recycling and Recovery UK

Having enjoyed the lessons and skills learned during my geography degree (yes, it’s not just about colouring in!), I knew I wanted a career that applied these and expanded my skills. I fell into the waste industry by chance.

While I studied the impact of waste generation at university, I didn’t acknowledge the expanse of knowledge and opportunities within the industry until I was in it.

I feel my current position encompasses all the waste and commercial experience I have acquired within the industry – namely, within landfilling, WEEE and Li-ion-battery recycling, and metal consultancy – and developed me for future opportunities. I’ve enjoyed my time in the industry so far and, hopefully, I’ve got many years of enjoyment to come.

I’m driven by wanting to make a difference. This is achieved from the dynamism of the industry, learning new knowledge and techniques, and developing and trialling new ideas for improving environmental performance.

I’m driven by wanting to make a difference. This is achieved from the dynamism of the industry, learning new knowledge and techniques, and developing and trialling new ideas for improving environmental performance.

I’m also driven by working hard to achieve compliance with Environmental Permits or legislation. This includes getting a permit variation issued or a Fire Prevention Plan approved by the Environment Agency.

I aspire to continue working hard, expanding my knowledge and making a difference, to progress further within the waste industry. This is applicable on a personal and professional basis (both are equally important). I also want to encourage others to join the industry, as more voices encourages more ideas and improved environmental performance.

This feature appeared first in the May/June issue of Circular. 

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