CSG regional manager Jen Cartmell: 'Quite often it's women who have to sacrifice the work side of the balance'

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:

CSG’s Jen Cartmell is a rarity in the male-dominated waste management industry, but her interest in tackling the gender imbalance is matched by the company’s attitude to diversity and innovation.

Waste and resource management is an industry made up of colourful and intelligent characters, yet it's strikingly obvious that its gender balance is way off. Calls for more women to join the sector have been heard for years and, slowly but surely, they are finally being answered. Those looking for a female role model in a male-dominated industry should look no further than Jen Cartmell.

As regional waste treatment manager at CSG, Cartmell has overseen the Manchester branch in Cadishead through monumental regulatory change, stepping away from a reliance on landfill to develop innovative methods to deal with problematic waste streams.

Under her leadership, CSG has won a series of regional awards, as well as making considerable donations to a charity that helps disadvantaged African children receive an education. Not bad for someone who said she would never have a career in the waste industry.

Cartmell says: “As my degree was in environmental chemistry, I did a topic on waste management and remember thinking ‘well, this isn’t relevant to me’ because there was no way I was going into waste. It just didn’t look glamorous or attractive, I saw pictures of landfill and thought that’s not what I want in terms of a career.”

Yet after leaving university, Cartmell landed a job as a site chemist on a landfill site, a move she has never regretted. She adds: “Like most people in waste, you get into the industry and you take to it, and then it becomes your lifelong passion.”

Industry changes

Since then, Cartmell has noted an extreme shift in the industry. She says: “What was very much a landfill-focused business has now become much more constrained. The push of the waste hierarchy to recover more has changed the industry massively and it now means it has a lot to offer – whether you’re a degree-qualified engineer, business manager, whatever.”

She has witnessed substantial change at the Cadishead site, one of the largest hazardous waste facilities in the UK, including the development of new processes. “We’ve made a few big leaps, mainly through responding to change through legislation. For example, we could no longer dispose of hazardous organic materials to landfill, which meant tanalised timber was now a problem.

“It’s used in cooling towers, but after demolition projects it was a problem in the waste stream. You couldn’t landfill it anymore and it caused a problem for incinerators because of the high level of arsenic. So the chemists developed a process where you could extract the hazardous components of copper, chrome and arsenic and leave clean wood.”

The CSG Cadishead site developed a similarly innovative solution within the nickel waste stream after recognising the financial benefit of its recovery. The team worked with specialists in electroplating to come up with a process that allows the nickel solution to be concentrated and its contaminants removed.

These are just two of many examples where challenging problems in the waste stream can be solved if they are given the correct amount of funding and attention.

So where lies the next opportunity? Surprisingly, Cartmell thinks it will come out of the uncertain current political climate, in particular the monumental headache delivered that is Brexit. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen but we certainly have a very high reliance on exporting hazardous waste to Europe and very limited technology or capacity in the UK for thermal treatment, for example.

“For me, energy recovery must be where the next opportunity is, and is something CSG is looking into, having invested in a gasification company.”

And this reflects a growing trend in the industry, where waste companies are expected to be much more dynamic and diverse when it comes to responding to regulatory and legislative challenges.

Cartmell adds: “Just because it’s not hazardous waste doesn’t mean it’s not of interest. The only business we stay away from is the general industrial bin commercial business because it’s already a saturated market which runs on high volumes and low margins. Our business model tends to be the other way around – we try to do something no-one else is doing and try to do it better.”

All staff members at the Cadishead branch are encouraged to pitch in their ideas for the next big breakthrough. Cartmell says: “It’s still a family-owned company, so you haven’t got the complicated shareholder structure, which means decisions are made quickly. Nearly every success within CSG has come from another idea or an opportunity to progress, rather than a top-down approach. If we can empower people to run and own their own businesses within CSG then that contribution of lots of people succeeding makes a bug success story for all.”

Sign of the times

Over the past month, allegations of sexism and misconduct have hit the headlines, and it seems as if instances have occurred in practically every industry at some point. Has Cartmell ever detected a sense of malpractice through her career?

“I have been very fortunate and not come across any sexism; the only similar area where you come up against something like that is when you’re a mother of two young children and you have to find a work-life balance. Quite often it’s women who have to sacrifice the work side of the balance.

“It drives me mad when you get comments like ‘do your children ever see you?’ and I think, well their dad does things too. On the upside, my kids are 12 and nine now and I feel that because I’ve been an independent working woman, I’ve raised two intelligent and worldly wise children. They’ve had to play their part in going to childcare and mum being late home from work, but I don’t think it’s been a detriment to them.”

Cartmell started out at CSG as a senior chemist when her son was just nine months old, and therefore took on a part-time contract, an unusual step for such a senior position. Similarly, she has employed a health and safety manager who could only work three days a week but is “absolutely the best person for the job”.

She says: “Being on a part-time contract made a massive difference. My boss would say when you get women who are determined to achieve, even while they are raising children, it’s not so much about the quantity of hours they can work but the quality of work they do in there.”

Employee satisfaction is clearly a key factor to the company’s success, given that CSG has won a string of regional and national awards in areas such as employer of the year, best use of technology and innovation.

So what’s stopping more women from becoming involved in the industry? “It is still a male-dominated industry and I don’t think it’s seen as an attractive industry for many women. Most of the guys on the shop floor tend to be male, there’s the traditional male jobs of driving HGVs and being site operators, but there are lots of opportunities for women to be involved.

“Our biggest challenge now is to recruit bright and talented people who can bring fresh ideas to how waste is managed, and obviously women have as much a part to play in that as men.”

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