Plastics News has been highlighting women in the industry with its Women Breaking the Mold special report since 2015. We've profiled presidents and plant managers to founders and engineers — all with unique experiences and stories to tell.
Like PN Assistant Managing Editor Rhoda Miel said, "Too often we're still seen as an exception, rather than a regular part of the workforce at every level." Countless nominees have shared how they were often the only or one of few women at their workplace.
Theresa Healy, business director of Reedy International, said she remembers going to conferences and feeling intimidated.
Healy shared a story about going to a customer trial and the engineer she was meeting looked down at her and said, "When is your technical guy going to show up so we can get started?" She replied, "Sir, that technical 'guy' is me."
"It wasn't until I worked with him on the machine, explained my experience and background in foam, and showed him how our products worked, that he apologized to me for assuming I wasn't technical enough," she said.
Barbara Walker, senior director of global IT operations, security, privacy for Avient Corp., said that when she started studying chemistry, she was in a class of roughly 250 students, "mostly male, just a [few] females."
"When I graduated with my Ph.D. seven pretty tough years later, there were only three who graduated that day from our class, all women, and I was one of them," Walker said.
Women are significantly outnumbered at the managerial levels. According to a report by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women are promoted. Broken down even further, that number is only 71 for Latinas and 58 for Black women. At the beginning of 2020, women held 38 percent of manager positions while men held 62 percent.
In the consumer packaged goods industry, 30 percent of C-suite positions are women. In engineering and industrial manufacturing, according to the McKinsey and LeanIn report, just 16 percent of C-suite roles are women.
And with the coronavirus pandemic, even fewer women are working. This is the first time the study found women were leaving the workforce at higher rates than men. (Previous years of the study found men and women left their companies at similar rates.)
NPR reported that more than 2 million women left the workforce in 2020. Of the workers who left the workforce in September 2020, 865,000, or 80 percent, were women, including 324,000 Latinas and 58,000 Black women, according to the National Women's Law Center and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force that month alone.
Women are faced with the challenges of child care — with so many children having virtual classrooms the past year — housework and burnout, in addition to the job losses in female-dominated industries like hospitality.
Some strides are being made for women in the workforce, however. The Fortune 500 broke three records in 2021 for its annual list that ranks the largest corporations in the U.S. First, the number of women running businesses that appear on the Fortune 500 hit a record-breaking 41 names. While that has come a long way since the three women who appeared on the list 10 years ago, there's still a lot of progress to be made to lift that 8.2 percent.
Second, this is the first time two Black women are named, Roz Brewer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA. Third, the highest-ranking business run by a female CEO is Karen Lynch of CVS Health at No. 4.
This issue of PN celebrates the women who are rule-breakers — and glass ceiling-breakers. We had a record number of entries and nominations for our special report this year. We profiled 50 women who have already made significant contributions, who continue to make a difference in the years to come and who have changed the industry for those that follow.
Because we could not fit all the achievements in these pages, there is more to see online, where we have added some questions and answers with this year's go-getters.
And don't forget to sign up for the 2021 Women Breaking the Mold Networking Forum, held Nov. 11-12 in Austin, Texas. The event includes speakers, workshops and networking for young professionals to industry veterans to help grow the plastics industry.
Jordan Vitick is the special projects editor for Plastics News.