Sonoma, Calif. — Just after Margaret Angelovich graduated from college, she entered a training program for women at a pulp and paper congomerate, Crown Zellerback Corp.
Then, as now, manufacturing wasn't seen as a place where you'd find women working. But during a panel discussion on women in the plastics industry at the Western Plastics Association's annual conference in Sonoma, Angelovich — now western regional sales manager base in Napa, Calif., for Illinois Tool Work Inc.'s Zip-Park resealable closure division — said that didn't mean that she wasn't wanted.
"Older gentlemen wanted their daughters to be successful so they were willing to help me," she said.
Other women in the plastics industry taking part in the May 18 event agreed that while they may have encountered some resistance, they also found mentors willing to help them.
"A lot of us had to prove ourselves," said Rosanne Spiekerman-Vaughan, executive vice president of Roplast Industries Inc. in Oroville, Calif. "We have to know more and can overcompensate to do that and earn people's trust."
Annette Sauder suggested that while "men like to know more, they are willing to share information" with women. Sauder is vice president of supply chain and corporate services for Layfield Group Ltd. of Richmond, British Columbia.
Cathy Browne said that she has never felt women need to know more than everyone else. She is general manager of Crown Poly Inc. of Huntington Park, Calif.
Advancement for women is "merit based," Browne said, during the discussion moderated by Kevin Kelly, CEO of Emerald Packaging Inc. in Union City, Calif., and WPA vice president.
"The resin companies have been successful" utilizing in general the collaborative and cooperative skills of women, Browne said.
Pallavi Joyappa noted, "Manufacturing is perceived as a male-dominated industry. You rarely see women in hands-on manufacturing positions" indicating a need for more mathematics and science education for women. Joyappa is chief operating officer of Emerald Packaging.
Spiekerman-Vaughan suggested being "passionate and curious" about all aspects of the business. She credits Roplast's Robert Bateman as being an "awesome mentor" as she learned about the business and sustainability issues.
Kelly asked about challenges.
"How to help others be successful" through mentoring and accepting and embracing change in the work place, Angelovich said.
"I don't think about gender," Spiekerman-Vaughan said. "I promote the same way, based on merit." Numbers are the unifying metric for her.
Browne took a long-term view. "Ten years from now, how will people see plastics in their lives? We need to change the pervasive attitude of millennials."
Pallavi identified recruitment of skilled machine operators as her biggest challenge. Emerald Packaging competes for talent in the expensive San Francisco Bay area with, among others, the carmaker Tesla and social media giant Facebook. "We have 14 open positions that have gone unfilled for two years," Pallavi said.
As for encouraging women, Angelovich said, "I find industry interesting. We need to convince young people it is interesting."
Spiekerman-Vaughan said she likes trouble shooting and dealing with "the flow of materials and processes" and "how to get from a raw material to a product."
Sauder noted family connections at the diversified Layfield Group. Sauder works with her husband, her father, her sister and a daughter.