I recently wrapped up the judging process for Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing (IWiM) awards. This is our second year highlighting women in all industries. Last year 22 women were named to our list (see: Influential Women In Manufacturing Earn Recognition).
Reading through all the applications I was pleased that the chemical industry appears to be a viable avenue for women. That notion was quashed when I opened an email that pointed out women are often the major minority when it comes to the chemical sector. The email also highlighted a McKinsey report titled “One is the loneliest number,” which commands that we “put an end to the costly workplace isolation experienced by many women by clustering them on teams and improving the promotion process.”
Now anyone who knows me knows that A.) I started singing the Three Dog Night classic “One” and B.) I went down the rabbit hole and started reading and clicking all sorts of links relating to women in industry.
The initial email was touting the experience of Els De Cremer, founding partner and managing director of Borderless -- a firm that finds and attracts senior-level executives for multinational companies in the life sciences, chemicals and converting, and food processing sectors. De Cremer spent 18 years at Dow Chemical before she founded Borderless. She feels that appealing to female talent will be a boost to the sector as a whole.
In an opinion piece that she penned, she said: “Managing a chemicals portfolio for the company [Dow Chemical] in Europe, I was accustomed to being the only woman. Whether this was at trade association meetings, conferences or internal meetings, the picture was always the same. Don’t get me wrong; there were some benefits of being the only woman. If you are good at your job, you do stand out and create exposure for yourself. But most of the time it meant putting in a lot of extra effort to be seen to be good at your job and to make sure your voice and ideas were heard.”
She also pointed to the McKinsey findings for North America that, although the proportion of women joining companies is rising steadily, female representation in the C-suite is stuck at 20%. Moreover, when women find themselves in a group of men, they are more prone to having their opinions questioned.
I interviewed a few women from last year’s IWiM roster and they echoed McKinsey and De Cremer. One winner, Rachelle Howard -- senior process control engineer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Chemical Processing’s newest editorial board member -- noted that gender bias is a challenge she still sometimes faces.
In the article “Rachelle Howard Answers 9+ Questions” she said: I have to prove myself a lot more before I get the crowd to start to listen. At my old job, I had to go through the task of having the same thing said by a couple of guys and then it was like, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah. Well, now I believe you.’ It was a little frustrating.
So while programs like IWiM and firms like Borderless are helping women feel less lonely in the chemical industry, there is still work to be done. I will do my part by highlighting accomplishments and pointing out bias whenever I can.
Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor. She is a champion of anyone who excels at their jobs. She also bursts into song at the drop of a hat. You can email her at email@example.com.