Sexism has no place in the waste industry

Written by: Stephen Wise | Published:

Seeing the recent interview at the French Open where a male tennis player tried to repeatedly kiss a female reporter, his male colleague failed to stop it and where the studio presenters laughed it off made me think about our own sector.

The waste and resources sector has grown from a ‘wheels and hole in the ground’ background to cover a broad spectrum including: the circular economy; complex operational sites; logistics; consultancy and both the private and public sector organisations such as local authorities, the health service, educational establishments and the private sector.

As the sector has grown in size and complexity we have seen an influx of new skills, capabilities, knowledge and experience that adds greatly to the culture that we have. While many organisations have active policies and encourage diversity, there are still unwelcome throwbacks to more unsavoury practices lurking within the sector.

One of the most prevalent that I have seen in my time and still see on a regular basis is sexism. In some areas of the sector we still have an almost institutional level of sexism accepted which has no place in our sector, any organisation or our daily lives.

When I joined the sector it was clearly more prevalent but should it really still be happening on such a common basis some 20 plus years later?

While many organisations are progressive, with a top down approach to diversity and sexism there almost seems to be a reverse glass ceiling below which this cultural change does not seem to filter down. We are all human beings, we all like to be treated with respect and dignity and this should be something that goes from top to bottom through an entire organisation and through the sector.

For example, Wood takes a zero tolerance stance and has a very progressive and proactive approach to the diversity agenda. This can be seen every day through the diversity of our employees yet we are still always striving to do better – which is great.

However, within the waste sector there are still too many occasions where I have witnessed casual sexism directly or been made aware of it. This includes derogatory comments, unwanted attention both with and without alcohol being a factor, pornographic images on display, crude remarks and patronising behaviour.

Bad attitudes

I think when I joined the sector as a graduate from university I was already more aware of a more progressive approach to diversity and sexism. It was a still a shock to find that on my first day on my first operational site the toilet was full of pornographic magazines and that there were pictures up on the walls.

The attitude of ‘it’s harmless’ and ‘it’s all men here’ and ‘so what’ were not acceptable and the magazines and picture were removed by the end of that day. I have also witnessed female colleagues receiving unwanted attention and had to step in to say something. But as with the example at the start of this blog, that is not always easy to do, and people feel uncomfortable or unwilling to step in. It should not be like this.

So, why is a male who does not have to experience sexism in its various forms writing about it? Well, because I should not have to see it happen on a regular basis, I should not have to step in and do something about it because it should not be happening in the first place.

But the reality is, it is still happening so when we see it more of us should step up and step in. That way, by stepping in more will see it as unacceptable behaviour and won’t tolerate it. That way, we put it in the past where it belongs.

Dr Stephen Wise is Waste Sector Director & Waste Technical Leader at Wood Plc

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