Being a woman crashing a male fraternity has its advantages. You'll certainly gather lots of attention for your efforts. But you might also encounter some lingering, Animal House-style chauvinism that can be none too charitable. Attributes easily can be overlooked in favor of surface distractions.
Even worse, you might just be ignored. Maureen Steinwall, president of injection molder Steinwall Inc., said a woman who owns a plastics business makes an immediate impression in the industry because she stands out.
But, in that brief window of opportunity, the impression can be either good or bad. A good impression will set a company apart from the competition. But the bad ones are tough to live down, and second chances do not come easily.
Women wanting to fulfill a dream and run their own processing companies have a lot going for them these days. Virtually gone are the politically incorrect attitudes of a generation ago, the perception that it takes brute strength to go into heavy manufacturing.
Instead, women will find a stepping stone of support. Both the Small Business Administration and outside associations offer education and training. Some major corporations, such as General Electric Co. and Motorola Inc., have become eager to work with women-owned companies and are setting high purchasing standards.
And a new perception in the age of automation and computer technology is that managers work with their heads instead of their shoulders. That speaks well for women in plastics, said President Tanny Crane of Crane Plastics Co.
Yet, the obstacles surprisingly have not quite gone away. Bank loans to buy equipment or acquire a company can be tough going. While venture or mezzanine funding is available, it takes time and sometimes is dolloped out in smaller amounts than needed.
And there's the more-subtle chauvinism — let's just say that few women-owned processors have succeeded in making the jump to becoming large companies. And the grouping still is small.
Third-party certification certainly will help afford more credibility to woman-owned companies, especially in the eyes of potential customers. Too often, businesses claim to be woman-owned that have no right to say so.
In a perfect world, there should be no issues to cover. Women should be treated equally with men in the manufacturing world and not have a harder row to hoe.
That time could be coming soon. The generation before this one plowed the field. Today, the fight continues nobly for future generations. In truth, many modern women business owners simply ignore any perceived gender issues.
It's time to take their example and crash down the fraternity walls once and for all.