I know the stereotype about executives and managers in the North American plastics industry.
It's a big white men's club.
It used to seem that way. I've definitely been at events — conferences, trade shows, news conferences — where nearly everyone looked … well, like me.
But I know there are plenty of talented women owners, executives and managers in the plastics industry, because I talk to them every day. And this year we'd like to shine a light on this key segment of the plastics industry, with a July 20 special report on Women in Plastics.
Some 26 years ago when Plastics News started publishing, it was more unusual to see women at a plastics industry event. It wasn't exactly the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs era of gender relations, but it wasn't that far removed.
One of the columns that attracted the most reader response in those early days was a funny — and heartfelt — Perspective column by our then-correspondent Clare Goldsberry, speaking out against the scantily clad eye-candy — she called them “booth bimbos” — that she saw at some trade shows.
Our readers were pretty much on Clare's side. Plastics in the 1990s wasn't “Mad Men” of the 1950s.
This isn't an issue just from the industry's past. News Editor Rhoda Miel recalls that two years ago she was part of an SPE judging panel in which multiple companies thanked the “gentlemen” on the panel for their consideration, ignoring the two women also passing judgment. Even in the past month, reporter Kerri Jansen noted that some attendees at a plastics conference dismissed her because she was both a woman and young. (Even though at the same conference, companies discussed the difficulties in attracting young, diverse new workers for their firms' futures.)
Most Plastics News subscribers are men. Most of the top officials listed in our rankings are men. The majority of the CEOs and company owners that our reporters talk to every day are men. But that's not the whole story, and it really never has been.
We've been interviewing women who were plastics companies CEOs for years. Same for chief financial officers, marketing managers, plastics and chemical engineers, and sales professionals.
I admit I haven't met a lot of plant managers and toolmakers who are women, but I know they're out there. Women have long held important roles in the plastics industry, and that's become more obvious over the years.
(And while we don't have many women on the actual circulation list, we know they're reading our website and they're getting the print edition routed to their desk every week.)
Today, when I visit plastics processors, even when the CEO or owner is a man, I notice that women often have prominent positions on the first tier of company managers.
That's not surprising. It doesn't make sense for any business to ignore 50 percent of the workforce when recruiting and developing talent. Doing so would be a competitive disadvantage.
My point is, we know there are a ton of talented women in the plastics industry, at processors, suppliers and everywhere else. We run across them every day. It's no longer that unusual to see women quoted in our stories or pictured in our People Watch column.
In fact, when we run stories about women who own or run plastics processors now, we don't feel the need to always emphasize to readers that, hey, this is a woman.
Sometimes it comes up, like when they mention that they're certified as a minority-owned or woman-owned business. Or when Maureen Steinwall was named to the Plastics Hall of Fame — only the second woman to receive that honor — and that was definitely newsworthy.
So who's the plastics industry's next Maureen Steinwall? I have no doubt that there are hundreds of them, if not thousands. We plan to profile many in our upcoming special report, and I encourage you to share their names with me in the next few weeks — and to encourage them to go online and fill out our survey.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.