As a traditionally male dominated space, it hasn’t always been easy for women to rise through the ranks of the recycled materials industry. In 2021 the Census Bureau reported that the workforce of waste management and remediation services was 486,126 people with 16.7% women and 83.3% men.

Making a meaningful change in your company’s workforce often starts by reexamining its culture. For example, are there successful women in decision-making roles? If not, why not? Could there be biases in hiring practices or other reasons why women are not staying in those roles?

“When recruiting, we look for candidates who possess strong talent, align with the company’s culture, and who demonstrate a willingness to dive into the weeds and work alongside a team to get the job done,” said Sarah Van Essen, marketing director at AIM Recycling. “We seek out individuals who can help our company grow. When AIM grows, it creates more opportunities, new roles, and expands our ability to promote the best.”

It’s clear that AIM’s workforce has grown to represent a diverse and unique group of employees. Currently, about 30 percent of AIM’s workforce is women and women hold many key roles including but not limited to the following titles: director of marketing; senior ferrous traders; head of transportation and logistics; internal buyers; nonferrous yard buyers; brokerage coordinator; and crane operators.

“I was impressed by the number and variety of positions held by women at AIM Recycling,” said Jennifer Barton, administrator of nonferrous at AIM Recycling. “I feel that when given opportunities, women excel here because of their ability and skill. AIM Recycling looks at the individual, not the gender.”

In honor of Women’s History Month, ISRI News spoke with Van Essen as well as Marlene Higdon, AIM’s recruiting manager, about how AIM Recycling’s culture has paved the way for a diverse workforce and how the company recognizes its female employees in the recycled materials industry.

Can you tell me about AIM Recycling’s hiring process?

Higdon: Our employees are the heartbeat of our organization. We value and seek out individuals based on their experience and performance regardless of gender, religion, or ethnic background. For this reason, we simply seek to recruit those who fit our core values, which include relational excellence, reliability, and creating value.

In this industry, there are very few women in upper levels. Many of our top employees – both men and women – didn’t have a metal recycling background. When interviewing candidates, we don’t limit our search to candidates with a background in the industry. Instead, we look for people with a skillset that we can develop.

In the past 10 years we have grown incrementally and added countless new positions. With that growth has come an increased focus on promoting from within. We’ve learned that to grow our business, we must find the right individuals who embody our core values, and we know they’re a fit when their skillset can be developed with future internal promotion in mind. All of this comes back to our emphasis on coaching, training, and how we invest in employees to further their careers with us.

Can you tell me about AIM Recycling’s culture and how it celebrates all employees?

Van Essen: Our female employees are celebrated not only on International Women’s Day, but through the daily encouragement, support, and guidance that all AIM employees receive.

We have daily calls where we review yesterday’s wins, celebrate team members’ achievements, and discuss goals for the upcoming day. Our mindset is that it takes everyone working together to create these wins. We send weekly internal communication about positive reviews from customers or noteworthy achievements for the week from our team. Establishing this culture of celebration encourages employees to take proactive steps to improve our team and work together.

Monthly, we recognize a (peer nominated) employee spotlight. Since we’ve started this initiative, over half have been women. We love celebrating all our team members and enjoy highlighting the good things they accomplish.

Why is it important for recycling companies to provide opportunities to all employees?

Van Essen: We believe that it’s important to give opportunities to all who seek to grow themselves and their careers, regardless of background. A diverse and empowered workforce enables us to make better decisions by considering a wider range of viewpoints, leading to more effective problem-solving and strategic planning.

AIM Recycling Celebrates Making the Inc 5000 List

The fact that many women sit in the decision-making seats in our company is because of their talent, acumen, and skillsets. It’s important for women within our organization (and outside) to see what is possible – there is opportunity to take on different roles, create value in new ways, and be a critical part of an amazing team.

Lastly, reflecting the diversity of the communities we serve fosters stronger relationships and trust, leading to greater community support and involvement in our recycling efforts. We support many efforts within our own communities, including the Farmersville Outreach Alliance, Hunt County’s Bras for a Cause, Gun Barrel City Beautification Committee, and more. Having strong women in business helps to foster strong relationships with women in the community.

How do diverse perspectives strengthen recycling companies and the industry?

Van Essen: Our company is strengthened by having a highly skilled and diversified workforce. Diverse perspectives mean that we have engaged employees and are better equipped to tackle complex challenges through varied approaches and solutions. Challenges arise in any business – we exist to solve those problems and provide value to our customers.

We use a structured approach to solving root issues. Each week our teams meet to discuss key wins as well as progress and obstacles. AIM emphasizes transparency and communication so we can get to the root cause of any issues. Our diverse workforce allows us to creatively solve those issues together.

Photos: Courtesy of AIM Recycling.

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is the Editorial Director at ISRI. She's interested in a wide range of topics in the recycled materials industry and is always eager to learn more. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in History and a minored in Creative Writing. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband.