Women in the Recycling Industry Share Perspectives on Women’s History Month

To celebrate Women’s History Month, four women in the recycling industry, including a member of ISRI’s Women in Recycling (WIR) Council, shared their experiences in the industry and what this month means to them. If you’re interested in more WIR content, don’t miss WIR’s ISRI2022 session, One ISRI Recycling Workshop, on Wednesday, March 23, 4-5 pm.

What drew you to the recycling industry?

Surabhi Pandey, regional business development manager, North East USA: I worked in banking for several years but I wanted a change. A friend working in the recycling industry suggested I give it a shot. I took her advice and haven’t looked back. I was initially in operations before moving to sales & business development.

Angeline Pacione, export manager, Pan American Zinc: I was attracted to international trade and commodities. I speak several languages and worked in several foreign countries, so physical commodities seemed like a great fit. I began working in zinc and lead refined metals for Glencore in Toronto. Once I joined Pan American Zinc, the goal was to sell zinc ingots to galvanizers and buy their industrial residues for recycling. Our business has grown tremendously and now I buy and sell all the nonferrous metals.

The industry is extremely dynamic. Trade flows constantly change, freight is often the deciding factor, and price and relationships are everything. I’m passionate about recycling and the planet, but I also love the excitement of finding the best prices, satisfying customers, and moving metals to their best home, whether domestic or international.

Radhika Ojha, editor, Americas, Davis Index, and WIR member: I grew up in India where recycling is still an informal sector. I was a business journalist in India before joining Davis Index, where my understanding of the global scale and depth of metals developed. Our founder and CEO, Sean Davidson, has a passion for this industry that’s infectious. Working in this sector is the best decision I ever made.

Kim Scott, senior trader, Kataman Metals LLC: I began at Reynolds Metals Company in 1994 at the rolling can sheet mill in Muscle Shoals, Ala. I started in the chemistry lab and worked my way up. I was interested in Reynolds because it was a large company that offered growth for women and men alike.

Tell me about some of the women in the industry who served as your role models.

Pandey: I follow the careers of Indra Nooyi (former chairperson and chief executive officer of PepsiCo) and Barbara Corcoran (founder of The Corcoran Group). Both have done amazing things in their respective industries. I try to read whatever they write and try to implement their advice in my work.

Pacione: My two biggest influences are Stephanie Plouin and Josephita Harry—the other traders at Pan American Zinc. They taught me the residues and nonferrous business. I’m very proud to work for a company where six of our 10 traders are women. That’s pretty awesome, and not common.

Ojha: There are so many women in this industry who inspire me. I absolutely admire [WIR co-chair] Sandy Brooks’ attention to detail and her courage to take a position in a new industry and grow in it. I’m awed by Josephita Harry’s deep industry knowledge and her patience helping newcomers enter the industry. Speaking with [WIR co-chair] Paula Summers Murphy showed me how services and finance are linked and why a great leader is first and foremost a team player. My talented female colleagues at Davis Index give me a strong reason to get up, show up, and make my mark every day.

Scott: Linda Peotter, president of Metal Trading Corporation, Judy Porta, metal trader at Royce Corporation, and Nancy Mose, sustainability manager at Ardagh Group, have been amazing female mentors throughout my career.

What does this month mean to you, and how do you plan on celebrating?

Pandey: It’s a month to honor women who fought for our rights through the centuries. It’s a time where we focus on multipronged efforts of women in our society to improve the lives of their families, communities, and the world at-large. I celebrate by attending relevant online events and webinars and by watching movies that empower and inspire me.

Pacione: Women have endured a lot in the fight for equality, but our resilience doesn’t surprise me. My grandmother would have been an amazing businesswoman. But at that time, it would have looked like her husband couldn’t provide for them. She stayed home with the children, but never felt fulfilled by only being a mother. My grandfather told my mother he wouldn’t pay for her university education because it wasn’t important for a woman to be educated. She worked hard and paid for it herself. I’m grateful for her and my father. They raised me to never acknowledge gender as a barrier to success. How will I celebrate? “Alexa, play ‘I am Woman’ by Helen Reddy, and turn up the volume!”

Ojha: I come from a family of strong women and I’m grateful for them. They encouraged me at every step toward achieving my personal and professional goals. This month is an opportunity to acknowledge women who stood for each other and paved the way for us to enjoy empowerment in all its forms, whether it’s speaking your mind, getting equal pay, exercising your right to choose, or wearing what you want, and remain fearless.

Scott: I am grateful to live in a time where women are celebrated for their contributions in this industry! I plan on celebrating with Josephita Harry and other ladies in the industry at ISRI2022 by toasting to the success of what we’ve accomplished in our careers thus far, and to future generations. It’s an honor to work alongside amazing women who are currently on this journey and those who paved the way for us in the industry.

How would you encourage others to celebrate Women’s History Month?

Pandey: To build a great future, one needs to be aware of the past. Read the history of the women’s rights movement in the U.S. Support a women’s organization or non-profit, plan an event that honors women, watch Ted Talks featuring women speakers, or support women-owned businesses.

Pacione: I love movies and books with strong female protagonists. Encourage your children and young nieces and nephews to look into strong female role models for inspiration and self-confidence. We’ve come a long way, but I don’t believe society truly accepts that all genders are equal yet. There’s still work to do, and I think the next generation will help achieve equality for everyone. Encouraging confidence in young women and raising young men to value and respect women and appreciate their differences are how we should keep honoring the month and move the needle on equality.

Ojha: This month reminds us how and why women play an equitable role in society. We should live by this ideal every day, not just in March. Encourage female colleagues, friends, and relatives to achieve their full potential. Only then can we realize the value of women’s empowerment.

Scott: Encouragement always comes from recognizing where you’ve been and what’s led to the advancement of women today. There are so many amazing women who have gotten us to where we are today, and I am forever grateful for them.

What advice would you give the industry to make it as diverse and equitable as possible for this generation and future generations of women?

Pandey: “Walk-the-talk.” In other words, don’t give lip-service. Take concrete/target-driven steps to increase women’s participation in the workforce, appreciate the challenges they face at home and at work, and do them the courtesy of evaluating and rewarding them on par with their male colleagues.

Pacione: Well, look around. Are there successful women in decision-making roles in your company? If not, why not? Is there bias in your hiring practices? Are women not staying in those roles? Examine your work culture and office environment. Typically, there are less women in this industry. My best bosses brought me to meetings and conferences to observe and learn. When I attended them on my own, I was more than capable to handle them. Keep your employees by training them well, showing them fun aspects of the job, and empowering them to make good decisions. If you hire women, train them well and provide a supportive environment, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t thrive in this industry.

Ojha: Working for a company where 90% of global staff are women, lets me see empowerment at the workplace in its truest form. Individuals and organizations should look beyond gender, race, or color and focus on talent, work ethic, and professionalism that a person brings. By removing unconscious bias, we’ll have a more equitable work environment and industry for all.

Scott: Consider the gifts, talents, and abilities of women across the generations. For years women were responsible for the family and today more women are focusing on their careers by waiting longer to get married and have children. What qualifies a man is also what qualifies a woman. We are educated, devoted, determined, driven, and hardworking. Those qualities should level the playing field. Our industry values recycling and the desire to care for the planet so that it will be better for future generations.