Women in Waste: Heather Roper
Like many women in her profession, Heather Roper’s biggest challenge has been proving herself as a leader—not to her superiors, but to her employees.
“I’m sure many of them initially think ‘what does she know about driving a truck?’”, she said. “My answer to that would be I don’t. However, I do know how to manage and motivate people, I know how to inspire my staff to achieve the highest possible standards, and I understand the value of quality customer service to our business.”
As General Manager, Operations for two GFL solid waste sites in Kitchener, ON, Heather brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom to her work. She’s a 25-year veteran of the waste business who’s held just about every role imaginable, from her first ever one in sales, to customer service, dispatch, supervisor and now general manager.
She’s also seen how in that time, the industry has opened up to women.
“When I first got in to this business, females in the industry were in what I would call the ‘traditional’ roles like customer service, dispatch, and accounting,” she said. “Today I see them in numerous operational roles from driving trucks, to mechanics, to ops managers, which is awesome!”
Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, Heather’s work ethic was shaped by her father, a hardworking, passionate customer service manager for one of Hamilton’s largest employers.
Though he sadly passed away a few years ago, his legacy lives on in his daughter’s success.
“He taught me the value of hard work and superior customer service,” said Heather. “I’ve been able to take those lessons and apply them in my work.”
Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Heather has not only forged a career as a knowledgeable, highly-respected leader in the waste industry, she’s also been a champion—and a pioneer—for women in the business.
She’s earned her seat at boardroom tables that were surrounded by men. She’s gained the respect of male employees who were skeptical of her management skills. She’s been an ambassador for commercial transport, another male-dominated industry, and is a past President and current board member of the prestigious 90-year-old Hamilton Transportation Club.
After working for seven waste management organizations and with solid managerial experience in her corner, Heather joined GFL in April 2018— and she hasn’t looked back.
“I chose GFL because I saw the support they provided to women in this industry,” she said. “If you look around, you will still see very few females in operational leadership roles within the waste industry.
“GFL is different. They are supporting women.”
In a traditionally male-dominated field, GFL’s executive leadership team is now 40 percent women, and the company is actively implementing programs to attract female employees to hourly and salaried positions across its operations.
It’s a strategy that Heather is completely on board with.
“I see GFL as a real leader in promoting, encouraging and celebrating women in these non-traditional roles, and I am proud to be a part of their team,” she said.
Since joining GFL, Heather has played her part. She has recently doubled the number of women working at her sites and is a mentor for women interested in front-line operations.
Being a compassionate manager – a quality she believe is more inherent in female managers than their male counterparts – has been critical to Heather’s success in retaining her employees, especially given the transportation field’s highly-competitive recruitment climate.
“People have the choice to work anywhere now, so I want our employees to feel respected and valued when they work for GFL,” she said.
In fact, Heather says her greatest achievement in almost a decade of waste industry management is building the team that works for her today.
“I have been able to put people in positions where they can use their knowledge and experience at work every day, and I rely on them for [that],” she said. “I work hard at ensuring we have the opportunity to sit together at least once a month to share experiences, ideas and suggestions and strive for an open door policy where they all know that I am available at any time for them.
“We all work well together, and I like to think of them all as my extended family.”
And as for proving herself as a leader—for Heather, it’s a job well done.