Women in Waste: Manon Berthold
Manon Berthold first took to the back of a garbage truck over 30 years ago as a young mother.
It was the antidote to a low-paying job that barely made ends meet.
“Working long hours for low pay coupled with childcare costs were some of the barriers I faced daily,” she said.
To ease the family’s financial burden, Manon’s husband – a self-employed, independent contractor for Matrec, a waste hauler in Montreal – suggested that she quit her job and work with him on his truck. They would be a team – he would drive the truck and she would ride on the back, picking up the garbage.
Inspired to do the best for her family, Manon took the opportunity. Working four nights a week, she earned a living for her family while staying at home during the day with her children.
A year in to her new job, Manon decided that she wanted to drive the truck. But soon after getting her license, she found she was expecting her third child.
Far from slowing down, Manon drove throughout her pregnancy, deftly navigating the narrow Montreal streets.
“As long as my feet could reach the pedals and my hand could turn the wheel, I drove,” she said.
She recalls her early days of driving were rough. Working alone in her truck at night down dark alleys, she kept a baseball bat next to her seat for protection, though she said she rarely had to use it.
And in the early 1990s, Manon was the only female driver in Montreal, a fact her male colleagues found hard to handle.
“At the beginning they threw me macho comments, like, ‘Are you able to hold the steering wheel? It’s too big for you… you won’t stay, you won’t able to do the job, etc.,” she said “Some guys thought they could tell me anything and that I wouldn’t reply, but they were wrong – I replied and I stayed.”
Even her supervisor made her life difficult.
“Occasionally I would call-in when my children got sick and my manager would belittle me, telling me ‘Stay home and do the dishes’,” she explained. “But I was much too headstrong and confident to let others hold me back.”
Though she had to double the efforts of her male counterparts for the same recognition, Manon says that eventually, when they saw she was doing the job just like them, she was accepted as part of the team.
Persevering through a stream of setbacks, Manon continued to drive her truck. As a self-employed contractor, she enjoyed independence, regular work hours and a solid wage to support her family.
After seven years in the driver’s seat, Manon longed for a fresh challenge and she began to make it known that she was interested in management. But despite her clear aptitude for her work and ambition to progress, once again the challenges came and she was frequently passed over for promotion.
When after over a decade of driving she finally got the chance to be a supervisor, she was determined to make it count.
“It felt good after all the setbacks,” she said, “But I remember working long hours in my early years of management, day and night, feeling like I needed to prove myself to the team.”
And prove herself she did. A diligent and committed leader, Manon has been recognized with promotion to Assistant Manager, Manager and her current role as General Manager at GFL’s solid waste facility in Boucherville, Quebec, since Matrec joined GFL in 2016.
Today she oversees 150 drivers and 150 trucks running five days a week in the Greater Montreal Area. She thrives on the fast-pace of the ever-evolving waste industry and the chance to meet those challenges with good people around her.
“We have a tight team [at GFL] and we work really well together across Quebec,” she said. “It’s a great place to work.”
Manon is also quick to praise the company’s proactive approach and supportive executive leadership in hiring women at all levels of the organization.
And though the early days as a woman in waste were tough, Manon is happy to say things have changed.
With 33 years in the business, she would know.
“As women we are accepted and the work environment is so much better [now],” she said. “The culture has changed and women’s roles have changed, not only in waste but within our society.”