Women in Waste: Laura Stewart
From summer student to manager of a national department, a long-standing relationship with a female mentor has helped Laura Stewart build an impressive career in the waste industry.
It all started when she was still in high school.
“I’d known Marsha Guy since I was in grade nine—her daughter and I competed on the cheerleading team together,” she said. “We stayed in touch all through my high school years, and she thought of me when the company she worked for, Waste Services Inc., were looking to hire for the summer.”
Thirteen years later, Laura oversees GFL’s largest waste accounts in Canada as National Accounts Manager. She credits much of her success to her ongoing relationship with Marsha—GFL’s National Sales and Marketing Director—and the mentorship she’s received from her.
“She’s taught me everything I know in the business—not only the hard skills required for this industry, but also her leadership qualities and ‘get it done’ attitude,” said Laura. “She certainly didn’t sugar-coat the fact that women are often doubted in this industry and that I will need to prove myself with hard work.”
As a young female in the business, Laura has received what she describes as ‘pushback’—but says it’s something she’s able to easily overcome.
“I feel as though sometimes others in the industry are surprised to see a young woman be so well-versed in waste,” she said. “I’ve had many people say to me “Wow, you know a lot about the industry!” and I explain that though I may look young, I’ve been doing this for nearly half of my life.”
Working in waste wasn’t Laura’s first career choice. Fresh out of high school, she wanted to be a paramedic and moved to Ottawa to attend school. But after the first semester, she quickly determined it wasn’t for her.
Back in her hometown of Hamilton, ON, Laura returned to work with WSI while she pursued a medical office management and administration diploma. She honed her knowledge of the industry by filling in where she was needed—whether it was accounting, customer service, or administration, Laura was grateful for the opportunity to grow.
Her first full-time position came shortly after graduating from her course. Seeking a fresh challenge, Laura applied for a sales representative position with WSI.
“I’d worked closely with their sales team previously in a customer service role and believed I would like the face-to-face customer interaction of a sales position,” she said. “So when an outside sales role came available with the company, I took it.”
When WSI was acquired by another company a year later, Laura was concerned for her job security. She decided to leave the company and return to medical administration.
However, it wasn’t long before her mentor approached her again.
“Marsha had started a job with GFL a few months prior, and spoke very highly of the company and the opportunities for someone like me with experience in the industry,” said Laura. “Where WSI had been a strictly solid waste company, GFL had established both solid and liquid divisions and I could see that growth was a main objective.
“Ultimately, I also missed what I knew best—which was waste.”
In summer 2011, Laura joined GFL as a Sales Support Manager. She was part of a small team and had a clear passion for her job. As GFL grew, so did the need to provide customers with a single point of contact for multiple service divisions, and the National Accounts Department was formed. In 2015, Laura was appointed to manage it.
“I’d been afforded the opportunity to work in all different departments, if even for a short period, and gain the relevant experience needed to problem solve and provide creative solutions for our customers,” she said. “I also thrive on the fast-paced industry, striving for innovation and never, ever having the same day twice.”
Laura has built a successful career on understanding every part of the waste business, adapting to the changing needs of the industry and taking a ‘no job is too small’ approach. When it comes to mentorship, she says she’s lucky to have a fellow female in her corner.
“Marsha has continuously noticed my efforts at work and celebrated them,” she said. “Sometimes as employees we get overlooked, so having a mentor to celebrate my accomplishments has meant the world to me!”
As she looks ahead to her future at GFL, Laura has big hopes of growing her team, her department and the company as a whole. She believes female-to-female mentorship will be key to success and she’s glad to see it happening at GFL.
“I firmly believe GFL is promoting equality in the industry more than any other waste company I’ve seen,” she said. “I now have a team of three women that work alongside me that I believe I provide with informal mentorship daily, and I want to help these women to be successful.”
She also encourages women to seek out the support they need to get ahead in their professional life.
“My number one piece of advice is to find a few female mentors—it really helped me learn how to overcome obstacles and find different perspectives to learn from,” she said.