July 25, 2022


Plastics News Staff

Women break the mold in plastics, gender roles

Women Breaking the Mold has a bit of a new meaning added to it this year. Or maybe it's been brewing for a few years — two to be more precise.


I'm, of course, talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the affects it's had on women in the plastics industry — and American workforce culture all around.


I started off during the stay-at-home orders already in a nontraditional role. I am the breadwinner; my husband stayed home to be with our then-2-year-old. He got a job at a hardware store just weeks before the coronavirus hit the U.S. All of a sudden, our roles switched, but with one key difference: I'd still be working here at  Plastics News  but also caring for our son.


Fast forward again, we've added another little one to the mix. Our daughter has a heart defect, so we waited and waited for her to get that lifesaving vaccine to protect her.


Things still aren't the way they were before the pandemic. I don't think they'll ever go back, and while that's OK, we definitely need to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Many of our  Women Breaking the Mold  class of 2022 spent yet another year juggling hybrid office work schedules, while those on the shop floor kept the lines working.


We still get comments like, "Why do awards for women in plastic? Shouldn't it just be for all?" But of course we have to remember that there isn't a large percentage of women in the plastics field. By highlighting it, we're showing that women can come into this profession, excel and have so much to offer the industry as a whole.


Like all working moms, I work my tail off at my job. I'm not perfect, but I try really hard every day. I can jump on and work at a moment's notice, and I often spend my Sunday nights getting primed for the week ahead.


We working moms worry about whether it appears that we're committed as we are to our jobs. I'd say that worry is enough to show that we are not only committed but also that we care deeply for the work we do.


I toil over my kids and whether or not I'm being a good mom for them, but I also meet their basic needs — food, water, sleep, play, learn. It gets complicated after two years without playgroups, music classes or indoor sports. It gets even more complicated when it comes to school and daycare.


Erin Swain, PlastiWin Capital Equipment vice president of sales, juggled teaching her school-aged children and working from home during the height of the pandemic. "My appreciation for the education system became next level," she said.


You don't have to be a mother or woman working in the plastics industry to feel the weight of expectations society has had for women for centuries.


Heather Scaglione, senior technology manager of specialty engineered materials at Avient Corp., shared that she was once told by a professor that "she could not be a successful professional, wife and mother — it was not possible to be all three." Scaglione, in her survey questionnaire, defined success in her own way: to break the mold in not just proclaiming she was successful, but to show success through actions and accomplishments.


"I want to serve as the strongest possible role model for young people with a clear message that you can do incredible things at work but also give back," she said.


Angela Elsey, president of PCS Co. in Fraser, Mich., echoed juggling multifaceted responsibilities — in her case, career and motherhood — often gives women a bit of a pause in whether or not it can be done.


"You hear people talk about the struggles of being a working mom. That always made me nervous, as I was so focused on my career. Here I am — with a toddler and expecting my second child," Elsey said.


Elsey's advice rings true for me: Have confidence and know your limits. "Let your family provide support when they offer. Lean on the people in your life and do not give up your dreams. You can be a good mom and a successful career woman."


Nearly every day, I feel like I reach my limit. And truth be told, it's almost always parenting those kids and hardly ever with my job. Those independent, pandemic-raised free-thinkers challenge my every word. They climb up on my desk when I step away to refill my coffee cup. My son bombards me with questions about polymers and resin pellets on days where he sees me editing "Material Insights."


"Now hold on," you might say. "You chose to have those kids." And absolutely I did — and I would have them and a career all over again.


Working from home has brought the professional side and the mothering side into a more balanced situation. I work more efficiently, my ideas are more creative, and I enjoy my work — it's enrichment and not just a paycheck. A reminder that I serve a part in our community and am not "just a mom."


I joke with my husband when he's home for lunch that I'm going to go take a quick work break. It's a wonderful place where I can keep the  Plastics News  website polished, share social media posts and check up on what stories are coming my way next.


My son will be starting preschool soon, so my visits into the office will be more frequent. But those days leave me even more frazzled. Sparring with my son on whether he should wear flip flops vs. sneakers to Grandma's house, or remembering my office badge and computer charger? My brain just usually picks one for me. Making it out of the house in office-appropriate clothes without food or Crayola marker stains? Unlikely. Even if I did manage it, I almost always spill coffee, the most important meal of the day, on my shirt.


I wonder how I'll manage without having to assist in building a Lego tower in between meetings, or cart my laptop to the backyard to work and supervise as my kids make mudpies and jump on the trampoline. But after reading the inspiring stories from our Women Breaking the Mold class of 2022, I'm determined it will go well.


Sloan is  Plastics News ' audience engagement editor. Follow her on Twitter @erinfsloan.


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