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Addressing the gender gap

What a remarkable show PACK EXPO Las Vegas was, breaking records as it did for both attendees and exhibitors.

Pat Reynolds
Pat Reynolds

Because there’s so much to cover at such an event, we editors at PMMI Media Group try to divide and conquer as we divvy up who covers what. So when it came to covering the Packaging & Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN) breakfast, my editorial colleague Stephanie Neil of Automation World got the assignment while I focused elsewhere. I enjoyed reading Neil’s account of the keynote address at the breakfast, which was delivered by Caterpillar VP Tana Utley. Especially notable, I thought, was Neil’s account of the seven tips Utley provided her audience, tips on how all packaging professionals, by better representing the abundant career opportunities in engineering, manufacturing, packaging, and processing, might help close the gender gap that currently exists in these professions. Neil captured Utley’s tips this way:

• Remember you are always being watched and judged. We are always judging others. It is human nature. So always make an attempt to be your best self. You are always on.

• Know the Art of War. The book by Sun Tzu provides good lessons, the first of which is to know yourself. Know what your skills, capabilities, and aspirations are. That includes knowing your feminine strengths. “Sometimes we try to downplay this in a male dominated [environment], but women are better listeners and can read a room better,” Utley said. And when setting aspirations, think about the trade-offs you are willing to make. “Anyone who says you can have it all is wrong,” she said. So you will have to make tradeoffs in your career. For Utley, she advanced her career while her husband worked part-time to take care of their daughter. She missed many of her daughter’s school activities, “but it was a sacrifice I made and I don’t regret it because it was right for me. I was making a difference at work and I knew my daughter was cared for. But only you know what is right for you.”

• Know your workplace. Try to get the pulse of and be observant in the company and know what the expectations are. “Be attuned to what the company is trying to do and try to be part of the solution,” she said. Also, know your industry and seek out opportunities to help you and the company win. It is combining the right nexus of your strengths and what the company needs, she said. “To get on a hot project, volunteer for the not-so-hot projects. Always be the employee with your hand in the air.”

• Know this simple math equation: Trust = Competence x Intimacy. If you want the big assignments at work you need the trust of the boss. You need competence and intimacy, which is the comfort factor that others have when they are working with you. This can be challenging for women, Utley said, especially if men are uncomfortable working with them. You know when someone is uncomfortable with you through their body language. “I try to make my body language visibly relaxed, which helps others to relax.”

• Get the personal stuff right. Focusing only on work is one-dimensional and limiting. “Look at leaders who get the personal stuff right.” For example, exercise to maintain physical health, which helps with the stamina and energy needed to travel. And maintain mental health by having friendships, which is also an important part of life.

• Be ready to continuously evolve and experiment on both the personal and professional side. If you are in a situation where you are not sure you can take it anymore, think of the options we have in today’s workforce, such as job sharing and flexible scheduling. “Employers are willing to work with you because they’ve put a lot of investment in you,” Utley said.

• Be a role model and pay it forward. To effectively get more women into STEM you have to be inspired. “For me, my daughter inspires me to give back. And I look at my granddaughters who are two and three years-old, and I want them to grow up in a world where they feel they can do anything.” Find your own inspiration, at home and in the workplace, and help others to come behind you, she said.

To learn more about PPWLN, visit

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