the power of women mentorship and support in the workplace

by Camille Corr Chism

Mentorship – throughout our careers we are told mentorship is an important piece to the puzzle of success at work.  Let’s discuss some of the aspects that impact mentorship for women at work and the positive impacts mentoring can have.

 

Mentoring is important for many reasons. 

 

At work it accomplishes multiple things:

  • It is an excellent way to impart wisdom and knowledge of an industry

  • Communicates unwritten rules of the work culture and how to navigate politically

  • Directly leads to faster career growth by defining paths

  • Introduces high potential employees to leadership teams

  • Helps retain employees by ensuring they are welcomed and embraced

  • Provides a second set of eyes within a company to provide guidance

Why is mentoring women in the packaging industry so important? The best place to start the discussion is with some demographics. Women are in the workplace in record numbers today.  Based on the Department of Labor charts below, the workforce has changed drastically in the last 75 years, in terms of gender.  It is well known that women have not progressed at the same rate, in terms of career growth and salary, especially in technical fields such as packaging. 

Currently, packaging is the third largest industry in the world and according to a study by McKinsey, the packaging sector generates $900 billion in annual revenues worldwide.  The U.S. packaging industry was valued at $183.92 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $218.36 billion by 2025 (Mordor Intelligence).  A Smithers Pira study projects the worldwide packaging industry will grow to $1.05 trillion by 2024.

As the incoming workforce from reaches gender parity in the packaging industry, it is only natural that the packaging industry will follow suit in order to maintain a stable workforce. 
 

How do women in packaging fare in the industry?  From a salary standpoint, the growth in the number of women in the industry, including new female graduates from packaging schools is not equivalent to salaries.  I will touch on how mentoring catapulted my salary later.

In general women leaders in packaging are similar to the number of women leaders in other corporate environments. The few women who have moved into management or leadership in packaging is much higher than 50 years ago; however, most women who have been in the packaging industry for decades admit that they did not have as much mentoring or help navigating the system of their companies compared to their counterparts in order to move forward in their career path.  This suggests that women are not mentored at the same rate as men in the workforce. 

Here are some of the reasons why mentorship may not be as readily available for women as men:

  • Mentorship is traditionally viewed as a process where leaders select someone they relate to and see potential in (some suggest people relate to those most like them on a superficial level).

  • Cultural expectations that women with families will not be as engaged or ready to do whatever it takes to move up to leadership. Some women face the incorrect assumption that work is secondary, family responsibilities are primary and can’t be delegated.

  • There may be a perception that women in the workforce at times are viewed as not as interested in career growth.

  • Men are more apt to relate to other males in the workplace (during the #MeToo Movement, some males expressed reluctance and attribute the reason to #MeToo and steer clear of mentoring female employees).

Now that these “obstacles” have been listed, be aware of them, but realize that mentoring helps careers and it is important to work with people who view mentoring as strictly a professional process between employees and that it is giving back and helping whatever company you work for. A significant component of mentoring is building relationships. I have worked hard and been fortunate enough to have had several great managers, talented friends and skilled leaders as mentors, people who I can reach out to decades later to bounce ideas around and ask for help.

There are many ways to be creative when seeking mentorship.

First, look inside your company for mentoring programs. 

Many companies offer structured and established programs that are tailored to the culture to encourage career growth.  This is a great way for women to get matched with like-minded leaders that they may not come across during the normal course of working.

Another way is to look for mentoring programs outside the company. 

What trade associations, schools or organizations are you involved with that have people you share interests with?  The chances of finding someone in the packaging industry or the industry you work with that has detailed knowledge of your company and how to navigate and grow is pretty high. This type of mentoring relationship can be effective and can offer introductions and ties to great mentors at your company. 

First, look inside your company for mentoring programs. 

Many companies offer structured and established programs that are tailored to the culture to encourage career growth.  This is a great way for women to get matched with like-minded leaders that they may not come across during the normal course of working. Another way is to look for mentoring programs outside the company. 

What trade associations, schools or organizations are you involved with that have people you share interests with?  The chances of finding someone in the packaging industry or the industry you work with that has detailed knowledge of your company and how to navigate and grow is pretty high.

This type of mentoring relationship can be effective and can offer introductions and ties to great mentors at your company. 

Start your own mentoring program.

I did a search to see if there is a formal program for women in packaging and found one such program, in Australia.  The Australian Institute of Packaging offers the Influential Woman mentoring program. 

Sometimes, you need to look outside of your professional circle.

Mentors can be friends with knowledge or expertise; mentoring does not have to be formal.  I am fortunate to have friends that have talents that I consider to be special.  For example, I learned that one way to equalize pay is to talk to others to gain knowledge and learn skills.  A friend and mentor who has held c-suite positions at various companies was able to convey tips for salary negotiation that were invaluable. His guidance was “…ask the hiring manager who controls the budget for the salary you want vs. haggling with the human resources department. 

 

HR’s goal is to keep average salaries on target.  The hiring manager best understands your value and skills and how you will fit in the department.  The manager will go to bat for you and have more impact on the internal negotiations.”  Previously, I was discouraged from negotiating and advised to ask HR for more, if I just really felt the need to negotiate.  With this advice, I was able to ensure my worth was conveyed to the HR team and get my salary on par with my male counterparts in packaging.

Last, but not least, give back to others; mentoring is reciprocal.

If you are a female (or male) in packaging, make a concerted effort to help others.  During my career, I have been asked to mentor several women, from entry level to above my grade and position.  As you progress in your career, keep in mind, “What can I and other women leaders in packaging do to help other women in this field?”

In order for the packaging industry to remain a strong force in the world economy in the future, it is imperative that we grow leaders, experts and businesses to support it.  One major part of this is mentoring.

In the end, mentors don’t have to fit the traditional image of seasoned male managers who choose to reach out to people of their choosing and take people under their wing.  Mentoring is changing, just as the workforce is changing.  Mentors come in many forms; it is not limited to a passive process of waiting to be selected.  It is just as important for those interested in growing and developing to be open to people who are willing and able to help, guide and teach others along the way. 

Camille is currently the East Region Manager for RLC Diversity, as well as Principal and Owner of Indigo Packaging and Consulting, LLC, a consultancy specializing in packaging design, supply chain and launch management.  She is an instructor for the Institute of Packaging Professionals, The Packaging School, as well as the Akron Polymer Technology Services Department at the University of Akron.

Her accomplishments include: a patent for the design of an injection molded dispenser, various corporate awards, and leadership training from Cardinal Stritch University. Additionally, Camille was a recipient of the Chrysler Diversity Leadership Award in 2014.

@2019 Robinson LaRueCo Consulting LLC