Chicago — It's natural for women managers in the plastics industry to feel isolated. At the Women Breaking the Mold conference in Chicago, some seasoned managers had advice for colleagues dealing with the male-centric plastics culture.
Stacey Chapman was the first female manager in the production department at Engineered Profiles LLC. Now she has 26 men who report to her.
She's quick to point out that even though they're all men, they're all different.
"The common denominator here is trust. I have a relationship with each guy who works for me," Chapman said. "They come to me personally, professionally. I have to treat them as individuals."
When she started her career in manufacturing in 2004, it was natural for her to turn to men as mentors. Today, it's more natural for her to be a mentor to her colleagues at the Columbus, Ohio-based profile extruder.
"All of my mentors were men. Men I still call on today," she said. "I think that those men gave me very valuable advice. [But] now, after meeting so many more women in manufacturing, I think I may have been missing something" by not also having women mentors, she said.
Chapman's advice to the audience drew applause: "You have to be confident. We have to know who we are. Don't settle for good. Go for great."
Cathy Browne, general manager of Crown Poly Inc., told a story about how, when she was 26, a male colleague questioned her decision-making because she was a woman.
"I thought at the time that it was because I was young. He was 60," Browne said. "I assumed at the time that it was because of my age and not my gender. Looking back, perhaps it was both, or maybe it was just gender.
"The way you overcome it is by knowing your material, being prepared, having the answers, justify your decision-making, standing your ground. Being confident in what you're proposing or what decision you've made. And putting forth a rational argument about why your decision is the one that should be carried out," Browne said.
Browne got her start in film extrusion more than 30 years ago. She joined Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Crown Poly in 1991 as the company's second employee.