Women #breakingthebias: Sian Cuffy-Young takes on waste management

Sian Cuffy-Young views waste management as sexy.

Founder of Siel Environmental Services Limited, the businesswoman is obsessed with waste management and has dedicated her career to educating people about it.

Operating in the field for the last 17 years, Cuffy-Young says it is a male-dominated one in which there are few women and even fewer of African descent.

As a result, she has had to chart her own course, seeking mentorship wherever she could and, in turn, providing guidance for those who wish to follow in her footsteps.

Cuffy-Young’s obsession with waste management was birthed at a young age.

“My father is into cub scouts and he taught me the conservation law which is you always leave a place cleaner than you left it. For all my life I have always been interacting with waste in some way, picking up after others and that kind of thing. At the age of 10, I went swimming with my family in Chaguaramas and a loaded pamper hit me in my face,” she recalled.

Sian Cuffy-Young with Quarry Rehabilitation Trainees

“When I was faced with the decision of what to do next after school, to me it was a no-brainer. I studied for a Bachelors, double major in Physics from the University of the West Indies and did a Masters in Environmental Engineering. I also got a Fulbright fellowship to Cornell University and studied Natural Resource Management and Climate Change Policy with a focus on Quarry Rehabilitation.”

Cuffy-Young said while other women gravitated towards areas such as conservation, she was drawn to waste management.

“When you think waste you think landfill, things on the ground, it is not pretty,” she said by way of explaining the dearth of women in her field.

Cuffy-Young started her journey working with the Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) in 2005 and after five years left to work for a mining company. She later returned to SWMCOL to work on a special project. At the mining company, as the first environmental officer, she pioneered the company’s waste management policy.

“In the beginning, it was a lot of proving myself and working harder because I had to establish myself as someone in the space, as a force to be reckoned with. It took some time trying to do that,” she said, recalling a time when her boss at SWMCOL sent her to the landfill to resolve an issue.

“The men didn’t want to talk to me, they wanted to talk to my boss and when I told him, he sent me back. He said they need to understand they need to respect you. I had to assert myself for them to take me seriously.  Working on a quarry was even worse but I had to be assertive and I had to know when to adopt a softer approach and when to be tough,” she said.

“I can’t ignore the fact that I am a woman and I haven’t received anything specifically because I am but I do focus on being the consummate professional at all times. I wish I saw someone in the space who looked like me in a leadership role so I try to be what I didn’t have. Recognising my role as a woman in the space is more important than just being a person in the space. I want to be an example to other young girls who need to see me running my own business, being a leader,” she added.

Coming from a family that believed in going to school and getting a job, Cuffy-Young ’s foray into entrepreneurship was also challenging.

A mother of three, she registered her business after giving birth to her last child in 2015 and engaged business coaches to help her navigate the waters.

Siel offers many services. There is waste literacy education for children. Young wrote a book called Ky’s Magical Adventures – Where Garbage Goes” to help children understand the waste process. She also created an eco-hero club where she meets with children and conducts fun activities around waste management.

Services also includes waste reduction and circular economics training and courses for individuals and businesses. This program teaches organisations how to utilise waste as a resource.

The company also offers home composting classes, a waste efficiency program for businesses, waste audit training for companies and provides consultancy support for projects.

Cuffy-Young has also designed a short course on waste management with UWI.

Cuffy-Young, who conducts webinars for teens and young adults, said there needs to be more exposure to non-traditional sectors so women can learn about the scope of jobs available.

“I didn’t know waste management was a sector I could get into. When there are career days we focus on the typical. I think the career days are organised by the guidance units in schools and they need to focus on the unconventional careers to show the length and breadth of careers everyone can have access to. I did World of Work at UWI, I put forward my company, so I am taking those opportunities to introduce young people to the things we can do.”


This article was originally published on Loop News (https://tt.loopnews.com/content/women-breakingthebias-sian-cuffy-young-takes-waste-management)

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