Words from the women of packaging

From different backgrounds, interests, and educations, these eight women find their passion in packaging and encourage other women to seize the myriad career opportunities presented by the industry.

Packaging is one of the largest industries in the world. Historically, there have been few women involved in leading the businesses that make up our industry. My firsthand experience as a packaging science student, working professional, and professor tells me this has been changing, perhaps in a dramatic way, over the past two decades. Inspired by the turnout at a Women in Packaging luncheon during last October’s PACK EXPO International trade show, our team started a search for hard data on this change and how it has impacted folks on a personal level. Our reporting begins with thoughts from the women I work with in packaging on a daily basis.

Dr. Julie Rice, Academic Director, PackagingSchool.com

“Having gone to a small liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania, I never thought of packaging as a career choice. However, since the time I was young, I have always been passionate about food and the packaging that came with it. I would spend hours on end at the grocery store as a child, looking at the different packaging on the shelf. By chance or fate, I stumbled upon Dr. Andrew Hurley and his exciting biometric research at Clemson University and began my packaging journey. Working with him, I received a Ph.D. in Food Technology with a concentration in packaging and now work for a packaging education company. It is so much fun to be able to bring my passions to life every day through education and consumer insights research. As the academic director for the team, I get the pleasure of working with students from around the world. It is so eye opening to see the various careers in packaging and the plethora of opportunities that exist in this field. Throughout my career in packaging, my hope is to inspire young women to take chances, live outside of their comfort zone, and lift each other up.”

Bianca Hurley, Director of Automotive Services, Package InSight

“I decided to study packaging engineering because I love all the variety that it offers. I really enjoyed mathematics at the time, but I was also interested in different materials and liked the design aspects of it. Why decide if you can have it all? For me, there was no other field out there with a wider range than packaging. And it took me far. I landed my first job as a packaging engineer at BMW within days of my application submission, and we are talking 2009 here. Being outnumbered by men did not impact me negatively but prepared me for my time to come in the automotive industry. I was immensely and positively surprised to learn how automotive packaging impacts almost all areas in automotive—quality, engineering, purchasing, production, aftersales—you name it! And I got a peek of it all! It never made me feel uncomfortable being a “minority,” but seeing shifts over time brought new thoughts and ideas to the teams. In my current position as the Director of Automotive Services at Package InSight, the men are the “minority.” The team has been growing organically that way, and I enjoy being part of such a great environment every day. Women who are debating whether to go into packaging should know that the opportunities seem endless and are out there—just take them.”

Alli Keigley, Project Coordinator, The Packaging School

“My path to the packaging industry has not been a direct route. With a background in education, I spent many years teaching elementary-age children. The world of packaging was all around me, but not something I knew as a career path. When our family business was contracted to create an infographic for an emotion study based on the different types of dunnage in distribution packaging, my eyes began to be opened to the vast packaging industry. One thing led to another, and the small contract job turned into a full-time job where I now happily oversee the production of packaging courses for students with all different backgrounds and educational needs. I had no idea how much I didn’t know about packaging. The opportunities are more varied than in many fields, and packaging has a huge impact on our planet. It’s exciting to think of the possibility that the children I educated years ago may benefit today from the courses I help build on subjects like sustainability and alternative packaging. They can learn and build upon this knowledge to create a brighter and cleaner future in packaging for the generations to follow. Women offer a unique perspective as the primary shopper/package disassembler in most homes, and we need more of their input as we seek to leave this world a better place for our children.”

Elizabeth Pulliam, Account Manager, The Packaging School

“I am not a science or numbers girl at all. Going into college, the words ‘packaging,’ ‘packaging engineer,’ and ‘packaging science’ sounded unbelievably mundane and was of no interest to me. My idea of a packaging professional was someone who slapped shipping labels onto cardboard boxes for my online orders. I wasn’t aware of the logistics behind it all, but somehow those boxes ended up at my doorstep. Fast forward years later, and I can’t help but laugh at how naive those thoughts were. Like many individuals, I simply stumbled into a career in packaging. I come from a marketing background, and since I started working in packaging, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world. As a marketer, something that is always taught are the 4 P’s (Product, Place, Price, Promotion). But really, there’s a fifth P that is lacking in this equation: Packaging! Many women I speak with about packaging don’t realize that sales, business, and marketing roles are in abundance beyond just engineering roles. The best part about my job? I get to show others on a daily basis just how important packaging is and give them the proper education needed to excel in the industry. Now when I speak about packaging, I do so with passion and excitement—because packaging is awesome!”

Diana Whitaker, Lead of Strategic Projects, Package InSight

“My career in packaging came about by happenstance. I was a liberal arts major in college with a focus on writing and editing. I had never thought about packaging except for the brief moments I encountered those impossible-to-open, plastic clamshells. When I took this job at Package InSight, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but a quick crash course on PackagingSchool.com taught me there was a vast industry out there that impacted my day-to-day life far more than I had realized. Although I don’t have an engineering or design background, I am able to bring important ‘soft skills’ to the job. I was quickly introduced to several projects I would be managing, including the Automotive Packaging Summit. I never thought I would be working in the events space, especially packaging events. There are so many opportunities available in this industry that are not just for engineers and scientists. The more women who realize there are educational opportunities and job openings, the further we can take this industry.”


Shannon Anderson, Project Manager, Package InSight

“My journey into the world of packaging has been ... circuitous. Little did I know that my degree in theatre would prepare me with the organizational skills I’d need to someday become a project manager for an advertising agency. While working in the agency world, I got a crash course in marketing, design, and proofing, and discovered that my natural tendencies to be detail-oriented and obsessed with learning new things could be considered marketable skills. I left the agency and worked as a freelance copywriter and editor (my other marketable skill) until I met the folks building out the staff for Package InSight and the Packaging School. That was really the culmination of so many best-of-both-worlds’ scenarios. As a copy editor for the Packaging School, I was able to expand my own knowledge of the specifics of packaging as I worked on the team to develop those early foundations courses. And as a Project Manager for Package InSight, I could use my marketing background, my theatre-bred people skills, and my penchant for arts and crafts to help create a useful, efficient service for brands struggling with packaging questions. I look at the amazing majority-female team we have at Package InSight and The Packaging School, and I’m very hopeful for the industry; we all have such varied backgrounds, and very few of us set out with an intention to make a career of packaging (or even knew that such a thing was a possibility). That’s the great thing about such a ubiquitous field—if you’ve got a skill, or a passion, or an interest, you can probably tie it to a career somewhere in the packaging industry. You just have to start exploring.”
 

Dr. Mengmeng Zhao, Associate Research Director, Package InSight

“Decision making has always been complex for me even regarding daily trivial things, not to mention big decisions like choosing a career. However, I decided to become a Packaging Engineering major in college the first time I heard of it. Not only because of the strong connection I feel with my daily life, but also because I really love that it combines artwork and science together. My undergraduate studies gave me a better understanding of packaging as a field with so many extensions into other industries. I thought maybe I could enrich myself more in the food science field, to give myself more job opportunities in food packaging development. With this idea, I chose a food-related field for my master’s degree, which exposed me to a lot of food safety and nutrition aspects of research. In order to continue my interests in research, I applied to the Ph.D. program in Food Technology at Clemson University in an effort to pursue a global view of the food packaging field. During the four years of my doctorate research, I worked on an extremely outstanding research team with professor Dr. Andrew Hurley. This experience showed me how packaging design can influence the whole production chain, as well as the process of launching a new product into the marketplace. After graduation, my packaging career officially started with Package InSight. I am so glad I can apply the knowledge from all my education here, and I enjoy my work. Currently, that involves enhancing packaging research with a database-driven management system to efficiently help people from various industries analyze their product performance in the context of a complicated retail environment. Thanks to ‘packaging’ for offering unlimited learning potential whenever I want to explore.”

Natalie Welty, Research Assistant, Package InSight

“My career interest for a long time now has been in advertising. When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with the TV show ‘Full House,’ which first got me interested in advertising. One of the episodes focused on two of the main characters coming up with an idea for a commercial and proposing the idea to their bosses. It was in that moment that my little nine-year-old brain realized that for every commercial I’d seen, it was somebody’s job to design it. From then on, I started telling people I wanted to go into advertising when I grew up. It started with wanting to come up with commercial ideas, like the characters in that show. But as I got older, I became interested in all sorts of different advertising, including print ads, outdoor ads, online ads, and more. When I got into college, I realized I wanted to not only learn about advertising, but also learn about how people’s minds work and how that ties into why advertising affects them in certain ways. As a result, I went to West Virginia University and got my bachelor’s degree in advertising with a minor in psychology. After graduating, I moved to Greenville, SC. After some time here, I applied to a research assistant position at Package InSight, LLC. I love my job and being able to mix my passion for psychological research with advertising (specifically to packages in this case). When thinking about my advertising career, packaging had never even crossed my mind. I never knew just how broad the packaging world was or how many jobs there were within it. In my almost five months with Package InSight, I’ve already learned so much about packaging, not only about the creative package designs, but also about how much goes into making the packaging itself. After learning that there are few women in the packaging industry, I am even more excited to work for this company. I am proud to be in the minority of women within the huge packaging industry, and I encourage other women all over the world to consider a career in packaging.”

I am sure you have heard the popular feel-good quotes about taking the road less traveled. Take that road. The road to success in the packaging industry is paved with women ready to make their mark. If you have a story, please share it with us by e-mailing info@packagingschool.com. We are interested in building a network, discussing opportunities, and rising the tides for everyone in our industry.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is the founder of Package Insight and The Packaging School, and an Associate Professor at Clemson University.

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