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Celebrating Women’s Empowerment

Celebrating Women's Empowerment: A Tribute to Emma Butler's Inspiring Speech

My name is Emma Butler, and I am the Head of Commercial for Waste Experts, we are a national waste and environmental services company who believe in “business for good”. I am humbled to stand before you all today to share my message of empowerment and inspiration, particularly for my fellow women navigating the often turbulent waters of male-dominated industries.

I would first of all like to start by extending my deepest thanks to Pat and the team at the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust Charity for inviting me to be a guest speaker at this remarkable event today. The charity was a natural fit for Waste Experts as it resonates with our company values of community, compassion, and collaboration. County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are a longstanding waste management customer of ours plus a lot of our staff reside in the County Durham and Darlington areas, so it was important we chose a charity that would benefit our teams as well as the communities in which we serve.

I introduced myself just now as the Head of Commercial for Waste Experts, but that is only one of the many hats that I wear. I am part of the Senior Management team, I am a Leader, A Mentor, A Wife, A Friend, A Colleague, A Daughter, A Sister and above all a Mother to my beautiful little girl. I am a woman who has navigated the dynamic landscape of a traditionally male-dominated industry and have found my strength in the realisation that diversity is not just a buzzword; but a driving force for innovation and progress. My journey is one of resilience, growth, and breaking barriers, and I am honoured to share my experiences with you all today.

The waste management industry is widely known as an “old boys club” and it is no secret that the road to success in such an environment often comes with challenges and obstacles. As women, we are often expected to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities, balancing the demands of our professional lives with the joys and responsibilities of motherhood.

But let me tell you something: being a mother and a senior manager in a male-dominated industry is not a hindrance; it is a superpower. It is a testament to the strength, resilience, and determination that defines women.

As a Mother my journey is not just about personal success; it's about paving the way for future generations of aspiring leaders. It’s about being a role model to my little girl and younger females within our business. Showing them that with grit and determination, you can navigate the complexities of professional life while maintaining a nurturing and supportive presence at home. 

As women, we possess an uncanny ability to multitask, to prioritise, and to lead with compassion and empathy. We understand the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment, where all individuals are valued, respected, and given equal opportunities to succeed. But perhaps most importantly, as female leaders, we have a responsibility to lift as we climb, to empower and uplift our fellow women, and to create a more inclusive and equitable workplaces for all.

Beyond the boardroom, I aspire that my impact echoes with my family, friends and the wider community. I hope that my journey sends a clear message that gender should never be a barrier to achieving your dreams. I want to break down stereotypes and prove that a woman can be both a loving mother and a formidable leader, challenging the narrative and inspiring young minds like my daughters to reach for the stars.

Did I think for one second as little girl when I used to sit and watch the bin men collect rubbish from outside my house, that I would once be working in that industry? Not quite! My journey into the waste management industry began like many others—an eager young 18 year old with a passion for making a difference and a determination to carve out my own path. But as I navigated the landscape of waste management, I couldn't help but notice the glaring imbalance, a lack of representation, a shortage of diversity, and a culture that often sidelined women like myself.

I vividly remember the early days of my career when I first set foot in the wonderful world of waste. It was a world filled with challenges, uncertainties, and opportunities waiting to be seized. And while many may have seen it as an unconventional path, I saw it as a calling—an opportunity to create positive change, to challenge the status quo, and to leave a lasting impact on the world around me.

In those early days, I encountered scepticism, doubt, and even resistance from those who questioned my decision to pursue a career in the waste industry. But I refused to be deterred. I saw beyond the surface-level perceptions of waste as a problem to be managed and instead recognised it as an opportunity for innovation, sustainability, and transformation.

After 7 years of working for various waste management businesses, I made a bold decision - to escape the norm and seek out a company that shared my values, my vision, and my commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace. And that's when I found Waste Experts—a company that didn't just talk about diversity and inclusion but lived and breathed it every day. I joined Waste Experts in 2018 as a Key Contract Manager looking after our larger clients, after 6 months in the business my hard work and passion was quickly recognised, and I was promoted to Commercial Manager overseeing the commercial activity for our electrical waste division.

At Waste Experts, I discovered a community of like-minded individuals, men and women from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences all united by a common purpose: to revolutionise the waste management industry and build a better, more sustainable future for all.

Here, I found not just a job, but a family—a family that celebrated my achievements, supported my ambitions, and empowered me to thrive as a leader, regardless of my gender. Here, I found opportunities for growth, for learning, and for making a real difference in the world around me.

But perhaps most importantly, here at Waste Experts, I found a voice—a voice that was heard, respected, and valued—a voice that wasn't drowned out by the noise of male dominance but amplified by the chorus of diversity and inclusion.

In mid-2020 I fell pregnant with my little girl, because let’s face it in a covid lockdown most of us either had a baby or got a puppy? There was only so many episodes of Joe Exotic the Tiger King we could watch….

I remember feeling extremely nervous telling my male Line Manager, Shaun, at the time that I was pregnant. Having only been in the business just over 2 years at this point and my scars from working in other male lead businesses, I feared that this exciting milestone in my life would hinder my professional development. But I couldn’t be far wrong.

After returning from maternity leave, I was presented with the opportunity to take on the role of Head of Commercial, overseeing all the sales, customer service, marketing and supply chain for the business. An opportunity which I grabbed with both hands. My transition back into the business was fully supported by Shaun and all my colleagues and I am proud to have taken my positive experiences forward within our business to champion and develop things like our breast-feeding policy and family friendly working policy. 

I have a lot to thank for my Managing Director, Shaun, who is a fantastic mentor and a very rare ambassador of females. He has created a platform for myself and other females within our business to flourish and grow. He always tells me “I do not define your success, you do” and I hold those words close to me every single day.

To all the women out there who may be facing similar challenges in male-dominated industries, I say this: don't be afraid to challenge the norms, and to seek out companies that celebrate your uniqueness, your talent, and your potential. And to all those who may be in positions of influence and power, I urge you to do more than just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion—take meaningful action, champion change, and create a workplace where everyone, regardless of gender, race, or background, can thrive and succeed.

To any men in our midst, I encourage you to be allies in this journey. Embrace diversity not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it is the key to unlocking innovation and achieving success. As we work together, we build a stronger, more dynamic industry that reflects the world we live in.

Remember, it’s not about competing with one another based on gender; it’s about collaborating, learning from each other, and creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. The waste management sector is evolving, and it needs the diverse perspectives that each of us brings to the table.

In closing, let us embrace our roles as mothers, as managers, and as female leaders in male-dominated industries with pride, with passion, and with unwavering determination. Together, we can shatter glass ceilings, defy expectations, and create a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

Thank you.

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