The evolving environment for women in waste

13th September 2019 Posted by

Dr-Tracey-LeghornPosted by Dr Tracey Leghorn.

I recently explored the changing gender profile of the waste workforce and how society is calling on women to lead as influencers in our worldwide mission to become eco-aware, care for our dwindling resources, and protect our ever-impacted climate.

At SUEZ, I’m proud to chair our thriving Women’s Network and our Women’s Strategy Delivery Group. Our network has grown to over 950 women within SUEZ over the last year and provides networking opportunities, both face-to-face and through our internal social media platform, Yammer, aimed at supporting, encouraging and inspiring women at SUEZ. We have our next annual event in October and will see around 150 of our female workforce come together to develop their personal brands, gain confidence in face-to-face and online professional networking and learn how they can help promote our industry and SUEZ as a vibrant and inclusive place to work.

Supporting women in waste

SUEZ UK's Women's Strategy Delivery Group

Our Strategy Delivery Group is focused on identifying and delivering concrete actions to improve the number and position of women in SUEZ.

One key area that we know impacts women lives, and has historically impeded their careers, is the onset of motherhood and everything that comes along with it. The factors that contribute to a woman’s career and motherhood decisions are complex. Understanding those from each individual perspective has been a key focus of my research into women and work for more than 20 years including my doctoral research The Best of Both Worlds?: Combining Work and Motherhood on a 24/7 Planet.

At our meeting earlier this year, we found ourselves discussing these issues, and in sharing our experiences. As a result, we decided to take forward several key areas of activity in order to better facilitate the employment of women, and indeed, all parents at SUEZ. One of these was flexible working.

Flexibility in the workplace – creating an agile culture

As a group we recognised that having children is an exciting time in your personal life, but it can come with its own unique practical and psychological challenges, both in and outside of our working lives. Whilst my research clearly demonstrates that it is not a panacea to all the challenges associated with being a working mum, flexible working is a key enabler facilitating women’s careers following motherhood. Therefore, it is imperative that organisations have this on their people agenda.

I feel passionately that any attempts to introduce or increase the availability of flexible working in an organisation should be taken forward as a cultural change relevant to both genders. It should also extend beyond working parents. If it is seen as a women’s and/or childcare solution only, it can often be resisted as being about women with children wanting ‘special’ treatment. In order to build momentum in an organisation for flexible and agile working it must be open to everyone, culturally embedded in ‘the way things are done around here’ and be an integrated enabler of the businesses operating model.

Flexible working therefore requires senior leadership support.

Cultural shift that helps to retain talent and makes sense commercially

At SUEZ we have a culture which supports a large degree of informal flexible and agile working, and we have many great examples that demonstrate its value. However, we wish to do more. So, the first step in taking this initiative forward has been to undertake research with 40 of our senior leaders to gain their views on the topic.


Our findings were encouragingly positive, with:

  • 87% of senior managers saying they would be more supportive of more flexible working in their department, division or region
  • 82% saying they would consider more job sharing of roles
  • 55% feeling that they themselves work flexibly

However, they have asked for more guidance in this area and clarity on possibilities in different teams – suggesting and recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We have defined concrete actions to facilitate these requests as well as share good practice, both internally and externally. We have also established tangible steps to develop our agile working culture across our business in line with overwhelming leadership support.

This is not simply because it is the right thing to do, but also because we recognise the business need for it, both commercially and with regards to attracting and retaining the very best talent in the most inclusive and diverse way possible.

What next?

For the moment, we are starting to see early signs of progress in the numbers of women joining SUEZ and those moving into management and senior management roles.

We hope this initiative will help grow our culture of positive encouragement and support for women at SUEZ to enable them to embrace ‘the best of both worlds’ when it comes to their careers and motherhood if that is the choice that they feel is right for them.

If you have any questions about women in waste or getting into the industry you can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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