At Antec last month, the Society of Plastics Engineers hosted a panel discussion on women in the plastics industry. The guests were Eve Vitale, chief executive of the SPE Foundation; Patricia Miller, CEO of injection molder Matrix 4 Inc.; and Sonita Lontoh, global head and vice president of marketing for 3D print and digital manufacturing at HP Inc.
The panel was moderated by Mercedes Landazuri of Apex Colors Inc., and a Plastics News Rising Star, class of 2017.
If that's not enough, Donna Davis, a Plastics Hall of Famer and ExxonMobil Chemical Co.'s sustainability and advocacy manager for plastics and resins, also said a few words.
The room was packed (with women and men), and the speakers shared personal stories, advice and insight. Their stories were all different, but there were common themes.
First, most have dealt with bias. Lontoh told a story about a recent visit in Europe where customers seemed to think that one of her male colleagues was the senior representative from HP.
"They didn't mean to be discriminatory," Lontoh said, but she wrestled with a polite way to communicate that she was the senior executive. "It would be uncouth to say, 'Hey, I'm the boss; pay attention to me.'"
Vitale noted that being a woman in a male-dominated industry is like being in the spotlight, meaning you always need to outperform men. Her story dated all the way back to high school: Even though she was the class valedictorian, she was not allowed to take physics — and instead was told to take typing and shorthand.
Another thing the speakers had in common is that none had what you'd call a linear career path. In some cases that was because they had career interruptions from having children. But that wasn't the only reason. Miller, for example, talked about wanting a career where she was challenged every day, and she enjoyed coming to work.
"I never wanted to have to listen to pump-up music to go to work," she joked.
Lontoh said women sometimes need to make a change if they're not seeing their careers advance.
"If you can't find it in your company, then go outside," Lontoh said.
Plastics News is proud to share stories of successful women in the plastics industry. This issue marks the fifth year in a row that we've published our Women Breaking the Mold special report, and we've profiled nearly 125 women over the years.
We're also planning another WBTM networking forum this year. It's scheduled for Nov. 11 in Nashville.
There's still no end of interesting stories in sight. We received more nominations this year than we could handle. So we'll be back next year with more Women Breaking the Mold. Thanks to everyone for sharing your stories.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.