Tell us about your background and how you got into the packaging industry.
In 2010, I was introduced to high pressure processing (HPP) technology when I was looking into how to manufacture an allergen-free chickpea butter spread. After being introduced to the technology in Canada, the North American distributor hired me to consult on writing novel food petitions to Health Canada for use of HPP in the Canadian market. By 2015, Health Canada removed HPP out of the novel foods department and my petitions contributed to this effort. A component of these petitions is understanding the impact HPP has on packaging and therefore the requirements needed for packaging of HPP treated foods. This introduced me to the world of packaging and all the different aspects of packaging there are to be considered in food manufacturing such as the materials, the shape/feel, consumer acceptability, how it looks on shelf and, of course, sustainability.
What is the most rewarding part of your job today?
I have the best job. So much that it doesn’t feel like work because I get to wake up every day and create and be innovative. I didn’t even go to school for food science, and I was able to turn my passion for food and blend it with my master of science to create a very niche career for myself by thinking outside the box and applying my academic skillset to my passion.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
This may sound naïve, but I have zero complaints. I have been very fortunate to manage a healthy balance between my professional and personal relationships with my clients as a consultant. This being said, I do see the bias in the male-dominated industry but I don’t let that cause me any concern. I continue to bring to the table my strengths and capabilities and I am not threatened by my shortcomings, as we all have a role to play and being a part of a team means welcoming the areas others fill in the gaps. Staying open minded to this perspective will help create the balance and commensalism needed in a male-dominated environment where they do not want to feel emasculated any more than you, as a woman, want to feel mistreated.
What are the unique opportunities for women in this industry?
Women, especially those that are mothers, are uniquely positioned. It is just a psychological fact that the female in a family household manages more stress than a male partner. Throughout my career, I have applied what I have learned as a mother to managing my professional relationships. The patience and ability to see from another person’s perspective is critical in fostering strong relationships and how we interact with one another in an office or even remotely can make or break your success. Not every successful business trait needs to be learned in a board room or classroom. Learn from the people that you are around the most. Be successful in those relationships and you will translate that into success with others, too.
What do you think are some of the key factors that have contributed to your success in the industry?
Having male role models. Being a woman, I already have the woman’s intuition box checked every day. Early on in my career, I had two male role models that were very different from one another. Seeing how they interacted with clients in meetings and dinners was incredibly valuable. That again, you can’t get from a classroom. Being open-minded to this opportunity is the first step. Thinking that because I am a woman, I will approach my career from this perspective and that I need to have a female role model is too closed-minded.
Why reinvent the wheel when you can hop into the driver’s seat and drive the car like a pro all the way to the finish line? Personally, I would prefer to leave any entitled thoughts in the dust as I am racing to achieve my goals. If the road is paved with male interactions along the way, then I will be prepared for those obstacles with tactical solutions that prevent collisions that will only hinder my success.
What has been the most important skill you’ve developed as you advanced your career?
Continuous education. Never stop learning. We can’t afford complacency today because innovation and advances in technology are happening faster than ever. Stay alert. Be informed. Do your own research. I have Google Alerts set for publications on career areas of interest to stay up with current research. This continuous education also includes working on yourself. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we are done growing. Most of our life is in our adult years so there is plenty of time for continued mental and emotional growth that will enrich your professional career. Self-care is a must!
What can the industry do better to support women and increase the number of women in leadership positions?
Between companies and organizations like PMMI and PPWLN [Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network], more events are highlighting the successful careers women have had in the packaging industry. My career was nowhere to be studied and if I hadn’t had the confidence in myself, my capabilities to think outside the box, be independent and self-sufficient, I probably would have been too scared to take a risk on an industry I knew nothing about at the time.
We live in a world with knowledge at our fingertips and have no reason to fear the unknown. Women need to encourage other women to have the confidence they too can be as successful as any other person.
Has there been a woman in your life who has inspired or mentored you? Who was she and what did you learn from her?
Hands-down, my daughter. She has been my greatest daily challenge with social anxiety and ADHD. It’s been a constant battle to support her and not turn to medication. She is the reminder that when you love something you will put yourself through mental and emotional exhaustion, but the reward of hard work is worth it.
Helping her reinforced my patience but also reminded me that everyone learns differently and that if a colleague and I don’t see eye to eye on something, is there something I can do to either see it from their perspective or come up with a solution that achieves the overall goal. Not everything has a direct path and orderly procedure, but in manufacturing we rely heavily on procedures and order that we can get lost in the bureaucracy of the office and forget that we are all still human and still need to build healthy relationships by treating one another as a human. Thus, the result could be the most proficient collaborations within the workspace.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in packaging?
Always look within for your motivation. It is no one else’s responsibility to make you happy but your own. If you love your career field but you are not happy because of the people around you (male or female), or your pay, don’t look to change others. You need to be your own advocate for yourself and your needs when it comes to negotiating contracts, salary, benefits, etc.
It is your choice to either adapt, change, evolve or move on. Do not accept unhappiness because you fear what else is out there. All that you want is out there. Find the confidence within yourself to go out there and get exactly what you want in life and don’t accept anything less because you are worth it and you are beyond capable of achieving every possibility. Our only limits are our own beliefs.