Getting on the shuttle to NPE, for the fourth day in a row, I begin to realize that I am one of three women on the bus. I look out the window and see more men waiting for a shuttle. I have been going to NPE for 10 years.
I sit with Jack Thomason, general manager of Western Management Inc. He agrees with me, and says there are probably so few women because plastics is a capital-intensive business, and women don't have degrees in mechanical engineering, “and also it is probably too boring for women.”
I decided to find the women. Marie-Claude Erian, relationship manager for plastics and packaging for Canada's Export Development Corp., said NPE is the only show she goes to. Most of the staff members in the Canadian booth were females and there were two to three men asking questions of each of the women.
And apparently getting satisfactory solutions from female staffers.
Eileen Tallinn, sales and marketing manager for Kiefel Inc., says “women have other competing interests; some fields are just too difficult for women to penetrate.”
They do succeed and can be very happy: Cari Vota, a supervisor for new product development for Milacron Inc., thinks the business of plastics offers enough diversity and good pay for women — they just don't know about it.
Cari is a mechanical engineer from Michigan Tech and has been with Milacron for 22 years. She did want to work at designing machinery when she got out of college, but started with Johnson & Johnson, at first, designing baby shampoo bottles and Band-Aids.
At RJG Inc., I asked Kara LaPres about her work. With a degree in business, she loves her job in inside sales. “The company is great, the benefits and pay terrific and the people good to work for.” She wishes there were more women in the plastic field.
If women are not on the floor, where are they? Behind the scene you will find Shari Burdick, operations manager for Flexsource Capital LLC, who will find leasing and finance solutions for you, exclusive to the plastics industry. She is in the money business, but feels women are just not encouraged in the science and technology fields of study.
So, where are all the women? One place you will find women is DuPont Co. The company sends women into high schools to encourage female students to study engineering.
At another NPE pavilion, about 200 men were listening intently to a woman talking about fuel-cell energy. When I asked the female sales rep what the woman's position was in the company she said, “Oh, she is just an actress!”
Can the plastics industry be so desperate for women that it has to hire actresses?
There are not a lot of women in the field, but those who are here are “top notch,” according to Jim Toner with the Society of Plastics Engineers.
SPE has 38,000 members and a female president, Donna Davis, from ExxonMobil Chemical Co. The president-elect, Karen Winkler, is from Dow Chemical Co. Of the 15 members of the executive committee, four are women.
But of the 60 speakers at NPE, only four were women.
April Barnett, marketing director for PolyOne Corp., would like to see more women in the business, although that company had quite a few women of all ages represented on the floor.
If there are plenty of men on the trade show floor, where are all the women? On top of companies and groups like Du-Pont, SPE, Milacron, RJG, and PolyOne!
Amie Lewis, who is based in Chicago, has been a publisher and writer since 1978.