Article by Jo Stephenson, Co-founder of Women In Packaging UK & MD of PHD Marketing & Strategy

female data scientist, woman leading teamIn business, we often say that ‘there are no problems, only challenges’. That being said, STEM fields have been dealing with a gender imbalance for a long time; and it has most definitely been problematic.

We founded the Women In Packaging UK initiative in 2014 for this very reason. Print and packaging is one of the most fast-paced, exciting industries there is. The fascinating science, research and development that goes into next-generation packaging, be it cardboard, glass, plastic or otherwise, impacts a great deal of our lives and the world around us. Then of course, the engineering and manufacturing processes that make it possible are an art of their own. However, like its counterpart STEM sectors, for many years women have been under-represented at every stage, from the factory floor to the boardroom.

Visibility and representation matters. Reportedly, less than 10% of the entire manufacturing workforce is female. The disparity in the packaging industry truly becomes apparent when considering that consumers, the people purchasing and making buying decisions around packaging, are predominantly female. Media intelligence organisation Bloomberg cites that women drive 70-80% of all purchase decisions, through a combination of their own buying power and influence. With females making up such a vast proportion of consumers purchases, it stands to reason that they would receive similar representation and opportunity to offer insight at the packaging design stage and beyond; but this is not the case. The problem is exacerbated further up the management ladder. Instinctively, we look for role models that remind us of ourselves in some capacity. Essentially, female leaders inspire other female leaders. Inhibited visibility, or lack of publicised role models, can harm number of women aiming for leadership roles within mid to upper tier management.

While progress has been made to address this balance, the industry has been slow to adapt. We understand our end goal; to encourage diversity by shining a spotlight on female achievement and help the packaging industry unlock the potential and bottom line value of supporting women in the field. To get there, it’s vital that we analyse the role of men in boosting diversity in STEM fields within the context of established gender dynamics. With the imbalance as it is, it’s critical that we get comfortable opening dialogue with male counterparts. How do we engage men in the discussion, and are we creating an environment to facilitate discussion?

To this end, it is important that are clearly communicating the benefits of a diverse workforce in STEM. Creating more opportunities for women within business, be it engineering, technology or otherwise, has real-time economic value for companies that are willing to shift up a gear and reject existing norms. The World Economic Forum reports that businesses with a gender-diverse workforce achieve more profitable outcomes from significant business decisions 73% of the time, compared to the 58% recorded for companies with all-male staff.

Furthermore, a study by the Peterson Institute, thinktank for international economics, found that across a sample pool of 21,000 public companies across the globe, businesses with at least 30% female leadership were more profitable, adding up to a significant six percentage points to net margin when compared to similar businesses without female leadership. Noted workplace performance publication the McKinsey report found that when staff demographic was broken down, businesses in the top quartile of gender diversity across the entire workforce were 46% more likely to outperform the industry average on operating profitability.

Of course, the role of women in STEM positions is much wider and more important than pure profitability. A gender-diverse workforce benefits from a broader spectrum of viewpoints and ideas, particularly important in the realm of science and technology, but also significant for engineering and manufacturing businesses. It also changes the inherent dynamic in the workforce. It’s human nature to seek recognition, and by encouraging women, highlighting successes to the same extent as their male counterparts, and offering the same level of progression opportunities, the business and the industry as a whole benefits from a more motivated workforce.

As we seek to encourage more women into STEM fields and consequently more women in, I believe it’s important that we open dialogue and create an environment that fosters meaningful discussion on how encouraging gender diversity benefits everyone. The statistics certainly back up the business aspects, but what will be key to achieving gender parity in STEM fields will be how effectively we communicate the benefits of a diverse hiring practices, and how we directly engage authorities, opinion leaders and academics. There is still a long way to go for the industry to catch up with the current zeitgeist of parity and there is certainly still a great deal to be said about how education and academic paths can be made more accessible for women, but in the environment where science, technology, engineering and mathematics meet commerce – like our own industry of print and packaging – if highlighting the bottom-line business advantages gets the ball rolling, then it will always worthwhile endeavour.

Jo StephensonAbout the author

Jo began her career in the chemical industry in 1992 after graduating from UMIST with a First Class Honours BSC. in Textiles, Economics and Management. After 14 years across roles in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, Jo honed her coaching, presenting & pitching skills to multinational organisations before moving to Sun Chemical in 2007 as European Packaging Marketing Director. She established PHD Marketing & Strategy in 2014 specialising in industries including manufacturing, distribution, pharmaceuticals, plastics, print & packaging. Jo co-founded the Women In Packaging UK initiative in 2014.