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Women in packaging: Taking the lead

Women in packaging: Taking the lead
“I believe this shift has played a significant role in driving a deeper understanding of consumers and their needs, which in turn has led to better designed solutions in the market.” — Mary Gregg, global director, global packaging innovation and excellence, Campbell Soup Co.

More women are rising to the highest levels of leadership within packaging departments, and the trend promises to change how the packaging industry does business.

The percentage of women in top leadership roles continues to grow, in industries ranging from automobile manufacturing to social media, and the packaging industry is mirroring the trend.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg shed light on the general shift in her 2013 book, “Lean In.” More recently, The New York Times explored issues of gender and leadership in a series of interviews with female chief executives entitled “Executive Women, Finding (and Owning) Their Voice.”

Statistics complement these qualitative analyses. McKinsey Quarterly reports that in the United States women “occupy 16.9% of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies,” and that “19% of Fortune 1000 companies have three or more women on their boards.” And in 2014, 26 Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs, according to Catalyst. Granted, all these numbers have a ways to go—but they are significantly larger than even a generation ago.

The number of women entering the packaging industry also is increasing, and that’s paving the way for more female leadership. “Actually, the packaging industry has made great strides in getting more women in the field,” says packaging consultant JoAnn Hines, aka Packaging Diva. In 1993, Hines founded Women in Packaging, an organization that was 13 chapters and several thousand members strong. After 20 years, the group disbanded as planned, but lives on in the Institute of Packaging Professionals group of the same name.

Hines adds, “When I started in ’76, it was less than 5%; now it’s traditionally 30 [to] 40% women. In the early days, it was much more difficult to advance within the industry. Now most of those barriers have been broken. I can remember being [the] only woman out of 150 sales reps in not one but two different companies, so tremendous progress has been made.”

The trend is apparent in packaging education, as well. Gayle Roubos, undergraduate academic specialist at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging, told Packaging Digest that 29% of packaging graduates in the 2013/2014 academic year were females. She added that the “incoming class [in Fall 2014] has 86 students in it (68 new freshmen, 18 transfers). Of those incoming students, 43 are female, giving us a true 50/50 split.”

To understand what the presence of more women—and particularly more women leaders—means to the packaging industry, Packaging Digest turned to several packaging-industry executives who also happen to be women. Here’s what they had to say.

The “tipping point”

For one thing, packaging departments are approaching a tipping point when the number of men and women will be evenly split. Some believe that time will be years in the future. Others think it will happen soon—or perhaps already has.

“It may seem that packaging departments are still male dominated, but there continues to be a group of strong women that are just coming of age, and it won’t be long before the balance shifts,” says Jane Chase, senior director of packaging engineering with The Schwan Food Co.

Taking that a step further, Mary Gregg, global director, global packaging innovation and excellence, Campbell Soup Co., says: “I believe we are in the process of a ‘tipping point’ right now, as there is a critical mass of established professional women in the industry at all levels of professional development.

“As such, we are more frequently seeing qualified women take on leadership roles. This is a phenomenon that is becoming more conventional every year, and I’m thrilled to see that. It’s a terrific opportunity for our industry, which will make us stronger.”

Gregg has observed the changes in the packaging industry over the past couple of decades. Recalling the start of her career in the late 1980s, she says, “The industry was heavily male-dominated at the time. There were very few women in packaging in general, and virtually no women in leadership roles in any part of the packaging value chain, including within CPG [consumer packaged goods] packaging functions.

“That has changed dramatically since then in terms of both numbers and influence across levels, including at leadership levels,” Gregg continues. “I believe this shift has played a significant role in driving a deeper understanding of consumers and their needs, which in turn has led to better designed solutions in the market.”

The value of diversity

Several executives pointed to the benefits of greater diversity in packaging departments and in business generally.

“I think the shift to increasing the number of women leaders in the industry will allow the packaging function to continue to grow and prosper,” says Eva Peters, global head of packaging development and industrial design, Novartis Consumer Health. “The reason being diversity.”

She explains, “The more diversity you can bring into the organization, the more rich and valuable your contributions can evolve. It does not have to be women only, but diversity of thought, of culture, of race, of lifestyle, of gender. So women are just a small part of the equation. I believe the best packaging organization is one in which you can recruit and employ the rich assets of our global population. By doing this it will allow you a broader diversity of thought, resulting in much richer packaging designs.”

Chase also underscores the value of diverse viewpoints. “Regardless of the industry, a diversity in leadership is a strength for any organization,” she says.

“In packaging specifically, I believe women bring a breadth of life experience that allows them to provide a unique point of view regarding consumers’ views of packaging and their product/package selection process,” Chase adds. “This will provide the opportunity to design packaging that resonates with a more diverse array of focused ethnographic consumer groups.”

Day-to-day work styles also may change as the number of women in packaging increases. “As more women enter packaging departments, we may well see a shift in how departments do business,” says Jill Ahern, consulting services senior director for the Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions team at HAVI Global Solutions.

“An example would be an increased ability to strive for more collaboration,” she says. “Oftentimes, collaboration between marketing and packaging functions is the single biggest barrier to world-class packaging solutions, and there have been numerous research studies conducted suggesting that women on average bring a more collaborative approach to the workplace.”

Getting to the corner office

As for achieving packaging leadership, Chase says, “My advice to young women looking to become industry leaders would be to get as varied experiences as possible. Don’t be afraid to make lateral moves that take you out of your comfort zone, to gain experience in those areas that packaging touches—processing, quality, marketing, operations. The broader your experience, the more valuable you will be to an organization.”

Ahern adds, “The most important advice I could give to any woman entering the industry is to be authentically herself. Young women should be confident in the unique skills sets they bring to the industry and the diversity of thought they can contribute. Young women shouldn’t feel a need to be the same as their male counterparts in order to be successful professionals.”

Leading ladies deserve the spotlight

How have you been inspired or influenced by a female leader in packaging? Tell us your story and we’ll post it online in the coming months.

Then we’ll give you a chance to vote on who you think are the 2015 Top Women in Packaging. Of course, we have a couple ideas of who should be on the list and will share profiles of these movers and shakers.

Send your nominations to lisa.pierce@ubm.com with a subject line of “Leading Ladies.” Please include contact information for yourself and your leader. Photos are welcomed and encouraged!

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