Bringing together women in the UK packaging industry

The visibility of female leaders – The Apprentice

The visibility of female leaders – The Apprentice

BBC series The Apprentice reached its final in December, with two budding entrepreneurs developing business plans for potential investment. Fans of the series will have noted that one potential business partner, Scarlett Allen-Horton, focussed her business model on headhunting to encourage more women into technology and engineering fields, with the aim of boosting diversity in mid to upper tier management.

The discussion that ensued on the viability and current state of play sheds more light on one of the core issues that Women In Packaging UK seeks to address, challenge and change within the packaging sector, which is a lack of representation and visibility for women.

At one point during the episode, it was stated that a business designed to encourage and place more females into engineering roles, particularly positions of leadership, would be limited because there are not enough qualified women for roles within this field. This perpetuates a common misconception, particularly within print and packaging, that there are not enough qualified women. The reality, however, is that while the number of women in the packaging industry is still growing, there remains a strong discrepancy in the number of males promoted to leadership roles and the number of their female counterparts being promoted to the same level. Qualified women in roles are abundant, but they are less likely to be promoted to positions of authority.

The recent McKinsey ‘Women in the Workplace 2019’ report highlighted that while positive progress has been made in terms of gender balance at every level of business, women still under-represented across the board.

The study notes that despite this positive step in the right direction, one of the main obstacles that persists is the ‘broken rung’, the initial step into a management role. The ‘broken rung’ challenge is actually an amalgamation of several significant challenges to the growth of women in business.

At the heart of the issue is visibility.  Whether intentional or not, we are heavily influenced by social norms and the environment around us. For STEM industries to be seen as a realistic long-term career choice, and the packaging sector is a great example, women need to see evidence of other women succeeding. This grants a connection, motivation and a clear outline of potential end goals to make these career choices appear valid and rewarding. Particularly as packaging faces a growing skills gap, women are a valuable resource that have shown time and again to bring unique qualities to the table.

The crux is that today’s leaders create tomorrow’s leaders, which means the lack of females in management positions dissuades other women from seeking out promotion and mid to upper tier executive roles.

Compounding the problem, women systematically underestimate their own abilities, and the combination of this challenge with lack of representation and visible female role models in upper management puts a significant confidence barrier in the way for women wishing to progress in STEM fields. There is also a great deal to discuss on how the education system prepares male and female students for careers in different ways, oftentimes making science and technology-oriented subjects less attractive to females. A study from the Institute of Physics found that all-female schools were, on average, seeing four times as many girls taking physics at A-Level than traditional mixed-gender schools, speaking to the inherent and often subconscious gendering of subjects that springs from established social and cultural norms.

The discussion aired on The Apprentice is indicative of the challenge many female employees in engineering and manufacturing face. Nobody wants to be the ‘odd one out’, and so to improve the gender diversity in packaging and reap the bottom line benefits that female employees bring to the value chain, it’s important to highlight female accomplishment and ensure that potential female leaders of the future can see that there is space for them within the boardroom.

Our aim as an organisation is to highlight, support and uplift female members of the packaging supply chain, providing networking, training and development opportunities, as well as aiming to break down barriers to entry for the next generation of female packaging industry members at every level of business. To find out more about Women In Packaging UK, visit www.womeninpackaging.co.uk or contact the team via womeninpackaging@gmail.com.