Women in waste: How women are driving real change


International Women's Day

When I was younger, I really wanted to work in forensic science; I never dreamed I’d have such a rewarding and successful career in waste management instead, writes Carla Brian, Head of Partnerships at Biffa, on International Women’s Day.

In what is still often regarded as a male-dominated sector, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the industry is not always the first choice for many women. A commitment to diversity and inclusion means this is changing, with more women now becoming drivers, refuse collectors and street cleaners. 

In fact, when I say to people I work in waste, many of them assume this is what I do, as these highly visible roles are their only perceptions of the industry. And while our amazing frontline colleagues are the backbone of our operations, this industry is so much more than bins and trucks.

International Women's Day
International Women’s Day is a holiday celebrated annually on March 8.

There are many other exciting, rewarding and challenging roles available that make a real difference to the world, from engineering and sustainability to environmental compliance and innovation. 

In fact, the UK waste management industry is investing £10 billion and creating 40,000 jobs over the next decade.

With this major commitment to projects such as recycling infrastructure, renewable energy and the redistribution of surplus produce to those who need it most, the industry has a vital role to play in tackling carbon emissions and food poverty.

But to bring about real change, we need more women at the table: research shows women are the ones championing recycling and eco-awareness in the home, and so their insight is invaluable to an industry which is trying to change society’s attitude to waste.

The industry needs more women – from new graduates to experienced professionals – with new ideas, perspectives and expertise to help ensure a more sustainable future for everyone.

Diversity, equity and inclusion at every level are key to that ambition and when businesses are willing to champion these three principles, it supports, empowers and builds the confidence of women, which in turn will attract more of us into the industry.

My story

Carla Brian
Carla Brian, Head of Partnerships at Biffa.

After my A-Levels, I actually started work in event management. After the birth of my first child, I wanted to go back to work, but not to the unsociable hours of hospitality. Through a friend, I got a job in the office at a local waste management brokerage. I loved the hours and quickly became fascinated by waste.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m now Head of Partnerships at Biffa, travelling up and down the country working with stakeholders across multiple industries, including supermarkets, start-ups and governments, to showcase how we can all work together to make a difference.

At Biffa, we’ve now committed to increasing the representation of women in senior roles. In fact, on International Women’s Day last year, we announced our aspiration for 50% of leader and manager appointments to be women.

Ultimately, it’s all about getting the best person for the job, whether that’s a man or a woman. But how do you know that you’re getting the best person if you don’t have a diverse shortlist?

In 2020, we launched a dedicated Women In Waste group to understand the barriers women face in the workplace and to help attract, support and develop female roles, including the introduction of a suite of family-friendly policies and flexible working conditions.

The group, which now has more than 150 members, is the driving force behind an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the menopause, and the introduction of frontline workwear that better fits the female body shape while still providing the right level of protection.

We are delighted to have recently become a member of Everywoman, a platform for inspiring, educating and advancing women in business. This will help us work towards a more gender-equitable organisation at all levels.

Seeing more women on the frontline, in the boardroom and everywhere in between clearly shows the opportunities that exist, encouraging more young women to consider a career in sustainable waste management when leaving school or university, while enticing more seasoned professionals into the sector.

That’s why International Women’s Day is such a key moment for us to shout about the great work we’re doing to create an inclusive culture, tell positive stories from women across the industry, and celebrate the progress we’re all making in creating a more sustainable future.

Send this to a friend