Merrill Roth, the former owner of injection molder Grant & Roth in Hillsboro, Ore., has established a fitting memorial to his spouse of 57 years, Ivy A. Roth, at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. Mr. Roth funded an annual scholarship for the schools' Department of Engineering Technology. Each year, $2,500 will be awarded to a female student in the field of plastics engineering.
Ivy Roth, who died in an automobile accident in 1994, would be pleased with the scholarship, according to Merrill.
``She spent nearly her whole life in the plastics industry, and sometimes women have a hard time being taken seriously in this business,'' he said.
That is a polite way of saying the plastics industry hasn't been as accepting of women as one might hope. Minorities have faced the same hurdle. The issue is sensitive with some people, who tend to resist evidence that the industry mirrors the rest of society when it comes to sexist and racist behavior.
A more productive response is to face the reality. Despite the adoption of cultural-change programs by many companies, women and minorities are conspicuous by their scarcity in the plastics industry in management.
The problem is not that they haven't been employed in the industry long enough to qualify for management positions. They have been in the work force as long as white males, but for a variety of reasons including discrimination, haven't been afforded the same opportunities for education, hiring or advancement.
Merrill Roth is not completely alone in his effort to do what he can to address the imperfections of the business, of course. A number of associations also earmark scholarships for women and minorities in an effort to advance the plastics industry. Both the Society for Women in Plastics and Women in Packaging are especially active in efforts to close the gender gap.
More widespread support is needed. The major difficulty is not tuition aid so much as it is changing attitudes. That is why the leadership of men like Merrill Roth stands out. He is one of those individuals who makes good things happen for the right reasons.