Women In Plastics: Technology, diversity impact industry veterans

The women profiled in the July 20 print issue of Plastics News and online this week represent a wide range of businesses, positions and experiences. Some of the industry veterans spoke with Plastics News about how their experiences in the plastics industry have evolved over the years.

Women represented 25.7 percent of people employed in plastics product manufacturing in 2013, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s not nearly half the population, but certainly an improvement over decades ago; many of the women Plastics News interviewed recalled a time when they were “the only one in the room.”

“I used to be the only gal, whenever I would go to conferences,” said Barbara Arnold-Feret, applications engineering manager for EngATech in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Now, it’s not significant. I can go to conferences and it’s not something that jumps out at you, that you’ve only got one gal in the room. … Now, I think, the attitudes and the professionalism that’s expected from all the players is elevated up, just 10 times what it used to be.”

Diana Krone, plant manager at Performance Engineered Products in Ponoma, Calif., expressed an appreciation for the path beaten by the previous generation of women like her mother, Ellen Krone, a production manager at the formerly called Inland Plastics in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and later chief operating officer at biomedical manufacturer National Scientific in Claremont, Calif.

“Her era was different from mine,” Diana Krone said. “She would have had issues with men expecting a certain person to be in the positions she had. I get a little bit of that with customers but once they work with me in most cases they’d rather work with me so I don’t have the same difficulties she had.”

She gets occasional reminders from business colleagues that she is a second-generation female in the plastics industry and that her mother was a bit of a trailblazer.

“We have some vendors come in and because I didn’t take my husband’s name they ask me if I’m related,” Krone said. “It’s not typical to see a female in my position so to go back even further it definitely wasn’t normal to see my mom in a position like that.”

Iris Thomas, flexible packaging product manager at CDF Corp. in Plymouth, Mass., had a similar perspective.

“It’s certainly made it more comfortable for women to do business, because you’re not the only one in the room and don’t stand out quite as much, but I think that it’s more acceptable now for women to come in and to negotiate and to speak their mind, where I think before it was a little more intimidating.”

Another major change Thomas has seen is the growth of technology and availability of information.

“I think customers and the people who buy plastic are pretty professional now and savvy,” she said. “They can get a lot of information online, so people are usually pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated about what they want, there’s just so much information that’s available.”

Rose Van Nieuwenhuyzen, president and CEO of Waverly Plastics Co. Inc. in Waverly, Iowa, said she has embraced how today’s technology enables her to work from anywhere. That’s quite a change from when she got her start in the plastics industry.

“When I first started in the plastics business in my first job — that was back in 1970 — we didn’t even have a computer. I did assist in installing the very first IBM, which took up about a 15-by-15-foot room … the thing was a monster,” she said. “And I was fortunate enough to have been in on the ground floor of setting up the first computer for that particular business in terms of inventory control and purchasing and shop floor control and a lot of those things, so I learned that part of the business from the ground up, literally, in terms of technology.”

Many of the women profiled use social media like LinkedIn and Twitter to further their business and personal network.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things technology has done for us — it allows us to network without driving somewhere,” said Annette Crandall, president of Quality Assured Plastics Inc. in Lawrence, Mich.

Crandall, along with other women profiled, cites her father among her inspirations. Growing up on a farm with three siblings, Crandall learned at an early age how to prioritize tasks and work with others to get the job done.

“My dad has always taught us how to build things,” she said. “… He’s been a good leader and we’ve learned a lot from him about how to manage people and how to grow a business. A lot of second generations learn how to run a business, but they don’t know how to build a business. And running a business will not keep it going — you always have to be in building mode, to some extent.”

Arnold-Feret remembered a favorite quote of her father’s: “When people say you can’t do that, it really means that you have not found the right way to do it yet.”

Listing the reasons she loves working in plastics, she highlighted her joy in working with people to solve problems.

“That’s the joy of working in plastics,” she said. “Because, frankly, there’s really no rules that haven’t been broken, and many of them haven’t been written yet.”

Plastics News staff reporter Catherine Kavanaugh contributed to this article.


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