The plastics industry has "huge gaps" in diversity that impact the way it's perceived by diverse young people looking for direction in their careers.
"That's become a driving force for me as a professional working in STEM and the plastics industry," Lilian Agyemang-Yeboah, applications engineer at Entegris Inc., told Plastics News.
"I want to be able to be that representation for any other girl that might be in college or even high school and wants to see someone that looks like them [in STEM industries]."
Agyemang-Yeboah is a recent addition to SPE's diversity, equity and inclusion advisory board and host of the new "Plastics and Beyond" podcast, which she hopes will "push people to start having those conversations in the plastics and manufacturing industry," she said.
Originally from Ghana, Agyemang-Yeboah moved to the U.S. originally to study chemical engineering. When she shifted to plastics engineering, because it better suited her interests, she noticed a difference in the level of diversity in her classrooms.
"In my first co-op I was the only girl on the team, the only Black girl, which felt awkward," she said.
"There were a lot of other Black girls in [chemical engineering] compared to plastics," she said.
"There already exists this feeling of being so small in a room full of white men in the classroom. … It took me a while to open up and even participate in class because I was really intimidated. Also being from a country in Africa and having an accent, I was very insecure about that."
She also found that many of her peers in the space had mentors who encouraged them and made them feel like they belonged.
"I wanted to find someone who looked like me and I couldn't find anyone who looked like me," she said. "It made me question if I was in the right field. … It always made me feel like maybe I should jump ship."
Three years into pursuing her education, she saw a Black woman, a plastics engineer, on a panel in one of her classes. Although she didn't get a chance to talk with her directly, Agyemang-Yeboah said that seeing "the mere physical representation of [herself] in this person" satisfied a need for belonging.
"I was so excited, learning about her journey and knowing where she was in her [career]," she said. "Seeing her speak and knowing that she's in my industry and she's actually climbing to the top was very fulfilling for me."