Inspired by the International Women’s Day theme this year of #choosetochallenge, Rachel Rowley, Managing Director at Encore Environment, discusses how choosing to challenge the status quo both in terms of how her team is doing business, and her client’s traditional views about waste disposal, is turning heads in the right way. This article has been featured in the June issue of Materials Recycling World magazine.
As a managing director, I surround myself with people who are skilled at what they do, are team players and really care about the impact their job has. In particular, the difference it makes to the environment and the wider communities and charities we work with. This is irrespective of their gender. At Encore, women actually hold the majority of our workforce, and it has always been important for me to forge an inclusive work environment where their careers thrive, and achievements are celebrated.
The waste industry, and the construction industry in which we work, is clearly male dominated, however we are noticing an increase in the number of women coming into the industry in search of leadership roles. I think one of the reasons for this is the shift in efforts within schools to teach children about gender equality and gender equity. When I was at school in the 80’s there were still very traditional roles for ‘girls’ and traditional roles for ‘boys’. I certainly broke that mould, and I hope that through my dedication in a ‘not so traditional’ role and sector, my daughter and son will feel empowered to know there are no glass ceilings in any profession they want to work in. Although the gender pay gap still seems to exist, hopefully this is a downward trend, and the next generation of women will be paid what they deserve for the job they do.
At Encore, the women on our team (as well as the men) are very involved in our key objective to challenge the traditional routes of waste disposal and offer our clients alternative, data-driven methods of waste management and to deliver social, economic and environmental value as well as save on waste costs. We make sure everyone understands our social values, our waste reduction initiatives and our strategic technology advances – which is going to be so important in the next decade as the net-zero economy accelerates.
I also believe in offering our team flexible working. This is so important for families, and particularly to help women back into work after having a baby. We recognise skill sets in various disciplines and won’t discriminate against anyone, male or female, if they can’t work the traditional 9-5 working hours. Never under-estimate a woman’s strength! Work, family, home – these plates will keep spinning. We know that work should not hinder the other plates, so we make every effort to ensure our workforce are happy, motivated and for them to feel supported. If there’s one thing lockdown has shown us it is that we can count on our staff to continue to do an excellent job, be amazingly productive and resilient even in a crisis, whilst juggling family life and keeping themselves and their family safe. They are superstars.
My work ethic came from a corporate background which was very lonely at times, but even back then I was not going to let my gender be an issue. I have been leered at on construction sites, and talked down to in a board room, or worse, not talked to. In the early days especially, my operation director, Gavin Pilcher, generally accompanied me to meetings and questions would be directed to him, however he would always look at me and say: “Rachel, what are your thoughts, after all it’s your call and you make the final decision.” This raised quite a lot of eyebrows! Now, it doesn’t bother me, but I remember feeling very disheartened at the time. Perhaps that’s because I have grown used it or that now I’m confident enough in my abilities to not even acknowledge it. However, when it affects my staff, that is a different matter. Unfortunately, we have had some of our female staff spoken to in a derogatory way but in any situation, we have an absolute ‘no tolerance’ policy. Male or female you should speak to others as you want to be spoken too.
I think women in waste are already disrupting the traditional, and as more intelligent and innovative women emerge in senior roles, this will be game changing for the future of the sector. Perhaps as a women entrepreneur in the industry, I’ve had the flexibility to think outside of the box with the advantage of not being held back by archaic processes and procedures. I have been able to bring a fresh approach to waste which our clients have really valued. I secretly started out by saying ‘I wanted to make waste sexy’! By this, I wanted to inject enthusiasm into the decision makers so they didn’t automatically put waste in skips which would go straight to a MRF or landfill. That actually, by thinking about waste differently, they could make a real difference to the environment and their local communities by facilitating the diversion of reusable items to organisations in need – and save carbon and costs at the same time. In this sense, I have never felt like I am competing with a man or anybody else. What we offer is unique so I’ve carved my own path.
I think it’s important that women leaders recognise they don’t have to know everything, we just need to surround ourselves with a dedicated team of people that have the relevant skill sets and share your vision. I hope to empower women in waste to be disruptive, if you think something can be done in a better way go for it, put your head above the parapet and you will be heard. Don’t be afraid to stand out, use it to your advantage. I hope that as Encore Environment grows, we will be able to support more women in waste achieve their goals.