Itasca, Ill. — Women in the plastics industry have found success with mentors and by making strong connections with colleagues, according to participants in a panel discussion at the Plastics News Women Breaking the Mold event in Itasca.
But all the panelists described being aware of gender differences in their roles as plastics industry leaders.
Akemi Mitchell, senior director, quality manager of Amcor Rigid Plastics, said she encountered subtly sexist comments in an office environment early on in her career. (She started in the automotive industry). Her advice: Address it immediately.
She suggested saying: "'What did you mean by that?' Stop, I don't care if we're in a meeting, stop and let's discuss this. ... It then starts another conversation," she said.
Patricia Miller, CEO of Matrix 4 Inc., said biases against women can still be found in other industries outside of manufacturing, when a woman's presence is "unexpected."
But even in manufacturing, Miller said customers "don't look at me as an owner. They look to my older teammates, or male teammates, as decision-makers," she said. "But, I think ultimately, if you know what you're capable of and you're good at what you do, then you can overcome that."
Stacey Bales, president and owner of Bales Metal Surfaces Solutions, said men at her company have no problem speaking up if they feel they aren't paid enough, or if they work harder than other colleagues. Women, however, "keep to themselves, they're there on time every day, they work really hard, they're focused, but for some reason they just don't normally speak up," Bales said.
Which is why, said Bales, communication is the key to her business' culture. She said always having an open door helps alleviate a lot of problems early on, before they become bigger issues, and reaching out to the women employees in particular helps keep them engaged.