Strong Women Standing Out in a Man’s World
According to research done by career expert Zippia, just 34% of those working in the print industry are women. So that makes it even more extraordinary that three in-plants have — by circumstances and not design — ended up being staffed and managed entirely by women:
- The University of Portland Printing & Mailing Services in Oregon;
- Cedarville University Print Services in Ohio;
- The University of the South Print Services in Tennessee.
While the past decade has seen the demographics shifting, with more people of varying races, genders, and orientations finding successful careers in print, there is still no denying that it is very much a “man’s world.” But that hasn’t stopped these women, who have not only found successful and fulfilling careers managing in-plants, but are actively mentoring and welcoming those who are coming up behind them.
One thing that really stands out, however, is just how welcoming print has been for these women. When thinking about obstacles in her career due to gender, Tammy Elliott, director of Print Services at The University of the South, notes that, “To be honest, I haven’t really had any. All the vendors we deal with, there is a level of respect there. Not to say others haven’t run into obstacles, but from my standpoint I haven’t. Sometimes there might be some misunderstanding in how people present things, or something is misinterpreted, but it’s not derogatory. Every vendor in so many arenas has always been very respectful — even though I’m a woman, they never treated me differently.”
‘Really Kind to Women’
“I think that the printing industry in itself is really kind to women,” says Renee Byrd, production designer at University of Portland Printing & Mailing Services. “The printing and mailing industry and everybody I’ve run across has been nice, and really willing to share information or help you any time. I don’t know if there are any stereotypes for women in the printing industry.”
Tammy Slone, director of retail services at Cedarville University, and a member of the IPMA board of directors, notes that internally, she never really faced any obstacles either. And even externally, it was more a matter of being the only woman in the room than anything else.
“My account reps are great, but sometimes you’re in a bigger meeting with a ton of men, and you wonder how seriously they’re taking you. I saw that earlier in my career, but not as much now. There has been improvement and change, and even the fact I was asked to serve on IPMA’s board says a lot about the industry and how far it’s come. Print is still male dominated, but there are a lot more opportunities for women now in this industry than when I got started.”
That said, Slone does recall one event where she was speaking on a panel, and afterward went to a hockey game with the others who had been on the same panel, and they were mixing business with the game.
“And I remember everything I was saying, no one was conversing back, and it was really awkward. And at the end of the game, the crowd was rowdy and they were saying ‘stay close to us’ and trying to protect me as a woman. I was 40 years old, and they wanted to treat me like a child who couldn’t take care of myself. I know they didn’t mean it that way — they thought they were being kind. But it struck me that I’m not your kid.”
On the plus side, she notes that things have improved since then, and that she’s incredibly grateful to all the women who broke the ground in the ’70s.
“Even for me to be in this position today, that speaks to how far we’ve come,” she says. “They broke those glass ceilings, and I’m so appreciative they were willing to do that.”
Challenges and Benefits
So, what are the benefits when it comes to an in-plant staffed entirely by women — and what are the challenges? “We’re women,” laughs Byrd, “so there are some days emotions can get high.”
But on the flip side, she stresses that, overall, the team has a lot of empathy for one another. She points out that “women in general are the caregivers for their families. We’ve got aging parents, teenagers, college kids, grandkids — that’s an obstacle, but it’s also a strength, because we have empathy for each other. But right now, there are four of us dealing with aging parents in addition to kids, so sometimes you have two or more people out because of certain issues. So that’s a big challenge.”
Sloane points out that managing women, even all women in the in-plant, is no different from managing people in general. However, she notes, “women tend to be more empathetic, and that helps when building teams and relationships. I really care about my employees, and I care that their job is something they should enjoy, but it’s their job — ultimately their family is the No. 1 important thing. As a woman and a mom and a wife, I can relate to that person who has a sick kid at home, and I’ve seen some men struggle [to relate to] that.”
“In the end, everyone wants to be treated with respect, and focus on what their knowledge base is,” says Elliott. “I would rather have an employee tell me when they don’t know something, and then I can help them figure it out, but I try to treat every person the same regardless if they’re male, female, different ethnic backgrounds, etc. We’re a pretty diverse school with students and faculty from around the world, and it’s neat to be able to interact with them and learn about their cultures and where they’re from.”
All three noted that while they have been fortunate to not experience any discrimination in their careers, they do think having all women in the in-plant has made for a work environment where everyone supports one another, and makes an effort to understand where others are coming from.
“You don’t get that ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars’ scenario,” laughs Elliott.
“There’s no awkwardness that can come from having a mix of men and women,” says Sloane. “I feel like they all just click. They think about how what they’re doing affects other people. I don’t want to generalize that men don’t think that way — it’s not true. But because we are all women, there is a camaraderie there, and a closeness amongst the staff as they are working and talking and going through their day. Putting a man into the mix would change that dynamic.”
Byrd notes that in the end, she doesn’t pay much attention to the fact that the staff are all women. “I just think we have a great group of thinkers,” she says. “Not that men can’t think — there are great male thinkers too — but this team has created some outstanding work, jobs, and projects I never would have thought we could do. We kind of think about things a little bit differently sometimes.”
In the end, women are just people, and they ultimately want to feel respected, and have their voices heard, in whatever career or job they undertake. It is heartening to hear, again and again, how welcomed and respected these women have felt, not just today, but throughout their many years in the industry. It is a testament to just how far we’ve come that being a woman in a man’s world is no longer an obstacle that must be overcome.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.