Over the past few years, the world of work has changed dramatically. This is due in large part to a global pandemic that forced people to work remotely and led to company downsizing in many industries. And, while businesses are seemingly back on track, women are still suffering from the pandemic-related aftermath.
According to a 2021 McKinsey & Company report on COVID-19’s impact on women’s employment, one in four women considered leaving their careers (vs. one in five men). A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics report substantiates those findings, showing that from February 2020 to January 2022, 1.1 million women left the labor force, accounting for 63% of all jobs lost. The bigger problem for the future of women in the workforce is that they may not come back at all—especially to male-dominated industries, like manufacturing.
And, while the national statistics show a troubling trend, the impact is felt at the local level.
At ProMach, a packaging machinery company with numerous product brands under its corporate umbrella, employees noticed this shift of the female workforce within their own organization, where women represent 20% of the global workforce. As a result, a group of women—and one man—joined forces in 2021 to create a plan for a women’s resource group that would improve female employee retention and leadership development across the many business units of the company.
“Around the time of COVID, we looked outside the organization, saw what was happening, and looked inside the organization, and saw the same thing—which is very few women in manufacturing,” says Krista Combs, vice president of human resources at ProMach. “And it was a sobering realization to know that with COVID, a lot more women were leaving manufacturing.”
Armed with that information, Combs, together with Julie Dropik, vice president of finance for ProMach’s primary packaging business unit, and Doug Stambaugh, president of the primary packaging business unit, decided they needed to start addressing this problem in a more aggressive way.
“It was even surprising to us, a group of women in leadership roles, how unique we were, and the opportunity in front of us. We considered what type of impact we could have in connecting not only the team but also being that conduit, if you will, to sharing our experience,” says Dropik.
Combs and Dropik recruited Lisa Propati, vice president and general manager of Weiler Labeling Systems (WLS), a ProMach product brand, who is also the co-chair of PMMI’s Packaging & Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN). Together the women outlined the statistics in a presentation for their senior leadership team, which led to them presenting at the company’s October 2021 General Managers meeting, where they kickstarted the “PowHER of the Pack” women’s resource group.
PowHER of the Pack began with 20 members and has since increased to 90 members—all either customer-facing, in engineering, or in leadership roles within ProMach—which Dropik asserts is still only the tip of the iceberg as the group continues its outreach efforts to the women at ProMach.
“When we had our annual meeting, I was questioning, is this going to work out well? Are they going to love it as much as we hope they will? And we were blown away at the engagement. No one looked at their phone for hours,” remembers Combs. “Being part of building this is amazing. And you can tell we love it by how much we put into it, but then we are getting so much out of it at the same time. This is what this is about, this is amazing.”
PowHER ideas and initiatives
To engage ProMach’s female leaders and leverage them to help the organization continue to grow and build future female leaders, Propati, Combs, and Dropik recruited three additional female senior leaders in the organization—Geri Krech, vice president of finance for ProMach’s filling business line, Kate Farley, director of sales at Modern, a ProMach product brand, and Susan Marshall, vice president and general manager of Edson, another ProMach product brand. Together, they created a mission statement and a space where the female employees could feel connected within ProMach’s decentralized structure.
The six women leaders meet as a small group on a regular basis to plan tangible, monthly connection opportunities ranging from a book club, to speakers in both virtual and in-person meetings. On the off-month of a speaker’s presentation, PowHER of the Pack meets in breakout sessions of five or six to discuss the speaker’s insights.
“We put together a calendar, and we try to make it somewhat different but relatable each month,” explains Propati. “We do have some speakers, like [ProMach president and CEO] Mark Anderson spoke to the group on International Women's Day, and we're going to do something similar this year.”
In October 2022, PowHer of the Pack was able to meet as an entire group in Athens, Ga. with an onsite speaker facilitating a discussion around what leadership looks like for each of them. This was followed by personal development and goal setting.
“That in-person event allowed people across a geographic space to get to meet other people, and it's blossoming—a launching pad of where we could go next,” says Dropik, noting that they will continue to hold an annual in-person event.
Beyond meetings and clubs, the PowHER of the Pack leadership has a new initiative in store for 2023: the Open Door Mentoring program. In an effort to make the program self-sustainable and easily accessible for early-career females, the concept of a hand-picked mentor matching process was thrown out the window and replaced with a friendlier setup.
Instead, senior female leaders within ProMach were contacted to take on the role of mentor. These women then drafted short bios and provided headshots to be posted on the PowHER of the Pack Microsoft Teams channel. Ownership is then placed on the PowHER of the Pack members to decide—based on skills, interests, and connections they’d like to make—who they would like to meet with and schedule a meeting based on the office hours that the mentor has set up. Mentors have been asked to commit up to twelve hours a quarter.
“This provides an easy and less scary way of reaching out to a senior leader in the organization,” says Combs. “We're going to be conducting some training for the mentors and the mentees on how to make those sessions as effective as possible. That's going to be starting here in the first quarter of 2023.”
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Dropik notes that the Open Door Mentoring program is just one piece of the plans that these women leaders have in store for PowHER of the Pack. Other areas of opportunity include:
- PowHER of the Pack at a local level
- The job fair environment
- Delegation of leadership to PowHER of the Pack members
- Empowering women to lead discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives at the local level
Support from male counterparts and leadership
Stambaugh was a strong supporter from the beginning and encouraged Propati, Combs, and Dropik to connect and see what could come of the collaboration. On top of that support, the ladies’ leadership team—all the way up to ProMach’s CEO—have given PowHER of the Pack their full backing. The resource group has become a marketable internal brand and may become an external brand as well.
“The support and encouragement from our leadership team really changes the trajectory of where we're going,” says Dropik. “The engagement at that level sets the tone for the company, and really sets us up to be successful.”
The support and encouragement of leadership at ProMach is ultimately what has allowed PowHER of the Pack to grow and even extend beyond the women’s resource group. Through the unique lens of the group’s female leaders, methods and tools for connecting, educating, and training are being extrapolated to benefit all of ProMach’s employees, and the Open Door Mentoring program may even be extended to new resource groups in the works.
As Combs points out, it can be daunting to enter a workforce without having someone to talk to who can relate to the issues and problems you are facing. PowHER of the Pack, and the mentoring program in particular, is doing its part to help women navigate a career in a male-dominated industry. The hope is that the program will serve to let women candidates know that they have a community they can join to support their careers, help them succeed, and train them to move up to senior leadership positions.
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