How this Republic Services CEO is breaking the stigma of female garbage truck drivers
When considering collecting waste management as a career, many people associate this role with a male occupation. United States data stipulate that in May 2021, 172,000 people were working in the waste management and remediation services sector. About 8% are women who drive the trucks compared to the more than 75% of women who drive school buses. Businesses across the country are facing a shortage of drivers. Organizations like Republic Services, a national waste disposal company, are working to close the gender gap while standardizing career paths for women in heavy equipment operation and trucking.
Sharon Mann, general manager of Baton Rouge at Republic Services, saw the need to change her driver recruitment strategy and began to put more women behind the wheel. Today, it has more than 68 female drivers and has 160 female drivers in its division, including Dedra McKinley, who recently received the National Commercial Driver of the Year 2021 award from the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). Mann’s work also inspired Republic Services’ She drives initiative to expand the pool of candidate drivers and increase the number of women hired for driver positions across the country. In one year, the hiring rate for female drivers has increased by a third, placing the Republic above the national average for female drivers.
“The company spoke at the corporate level and said, ‘We want to develop this SheDrives program and we would like you to participate in it,’” commented Mann. “There were a lot of people in the business who were involved in this. They went to great lengths to recruit women. … they’re even considering a SheDrives 2.0 program. I hear people talk about 80,000 truck openings across the country. We just need to expose ourselves, not only to the waste industry, but to all the trucking companies, to look at different ways of recruiting.
Mann began her career as a temporary employee at Republic while she was in school. After being offered a full-time position, she rose through the corporate ranks. Thirty-five years later, she held various positions, including that of security manager, operations manager and regional routing manager.
As the trucking industry began to see a decline in the number of drivers before the pandemic, Mann had an idea of how to fill the vacancies. As she waited in line for cars at her children’s school, she noticed the bus drivers standing around.
“I got out of my car and headed for the parking lot,” she shares. “I started talking to them and handed out my business cards. At the time, we were little drivers. We really needed to employ drivers, but it was a challenge. We couldn’t get people to apply. And then some of the people who applied just didn’t have the qualifications. So while I was talking to these bus drivers, they were like, “I never really thought about it. When you see a garbage truck you really don’t think women can do that. And then I told them. told my story, and we talked about it. … After that, they started applying. We hired a few of them. Now, naturally, my philosophy was, “Why not hire them? They operate in the same neighborhoods where we pick up, and safety has to be their number one priority as they already carry valuable cargo.
As this has become a popular recruiting tool, Mann has also championed the SheDrives initiative, which attracts women like McKinley who want to build a career for themselves while being present in their children’s lives. McKinley went to trucking school but quickly discovered that it didn’t suit her lifestyle as a single mom. A few of his friends suggested that he apply to Republic. Initially, she started out as a driver and quickly became a driving instructor, allowing her to provide for her family while not missing the important moments.
Winning the NWRA is no small feat. The recipient must demonstrate many qualifications including letters of recommendation from clients, family members and the community. Over the past decade, several of the company’s drivers have qualified for finalists; however, this was the first year that a driver, McKinley, of Republic had received the award.
“I work hard,” says McKinley. “I stay focused and I am reliable. “
As Mann continues to evolve and expand the recruiting process, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Don’t take no for an answer. See it as a challenge. The more challenges you challenge yourself, the further you will go in the process.
- Give it all you have. If it’s something you really want, develop a strategy that will hold you accountable.
- Listen to yourself. There is going to be so much white noise trying to keep you from doing what you want to do. You need to be confident in yourself and your skills.
“Whether it’s a man or a woman, you always treat everyone the same,” Mann concludes. “Even though they might take a little longer, or even if the men took a little longer in training, it doesn’t matter. If the right person is the right fit for the job, we need to keep that in mind. We’re not just trying to put bodies in seats. In fact, we hire the person to do the job so that it does it safely. They will take care of our clients, and it will be a career decision for them. For me, it was more about teaching people. We need people, so we need to start thinking outside the box. “