Women in Packaging: how we can keep the ball rolling

Women represent almost half of the UK labour force, but they account for only 26% of workers in the manufacturing sector. Our Director of Marketing and Engagement, Liz Ross Martyn, joined a panel at February’s Packaging Innovations entitled “Women in Manufacturing initiative: the ball has started rolling…” to discuss ways to increase the number of women choosing a packaging career.

For International Women’s Day, Liz reflects on some thought-provoking points from the panel.

It was a real honour to join Emma Verkaik, BCMPA CEO; Jo Stephenson, MD of PHD Marketing; and Nicola Jones, Manager, Steel Packaging Recycling, at Tata Steel, on a panel moderated by Zoi Roupakia, Research Associate for the Institute of Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.

All of us on the panel had taken very different paths into the print and packaging sector, which provided a broad range of expertise and experience for everyone to learn from.

Making the case for packaging’s STEM classification

The packaging industry is vibrant, innovative and progressive, grounded in technological developments, qualities which make it a clear member of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) grouping.

STEM industries benefit from a wealth of outreach initiatives that engage women and show them the sectors’ true career potential, which the packaging industry could also leverage by clearly defining itself in this way.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”

While more women are joining the packaging industry, they are more likely to be in administration and office-based roles than on technical and manufacturing teams. This is seen in the data from the Printing Charity’s Rising Star Awards, where over two-thirds of the winners (56 people) were female, of that 56, only one worked in a manufacturing role. Since the Rising Star Awards are for young people at the start of their careers, it appears that without a concentrated effort to move the dial, the trend looks set to continue.

On the panel, Jo’s use of the phrase “You can’t be what you can’t see” highlighted the necessity of raising the profile of females in manufacturing. These role models inspire others to follow in their footsteps, which also leads to positive outcomes for the business. Underlining this, Emma highlighted a situation in her own organisation where a woman working successfully in a production role chose to diversify her career path by retraining as a forklift truck driver. In taking that trailblazing path, others realised it was possible for them too. As a result she single handedly drove positive change in that division.

Nicola spoke about the importance of addressing small, but hugely impactful, points that can make women feel a greater sense of belonging in a manufacturing environment. Ensuring that women’s workwear fits appropriately, for example, is one such crucial consideration.

Learning about packaging at school

In order to bring more women into the packaging industry, learning about the potential of a career in manufacturing needs to be embedded into the UK’s education system. The more young people made aware of the opportunities in the industry, the greater number of girls will consider it for their career. To do this, Jo emphasised the importance of showing manufacturing industries in a realistic and inspiring way, as homes of innovation, technology, and true career development potential.

The wide range of ideas discussed underlined how important it is that businesses in our sectors don’t make assumptions when increasing inclusivity, but instead take time to listen to women’s perspectives. This will enable them to implement changes that create environments in which women can genuinely thrive.

Are you a young woman working in packaging?

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