Caterpillar exec: Boosting women's role in packaging and processing

by Joanie Spencer
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Tracy Stout
(From left) Tana Utley being introduced by Tracy Stout at the Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network event.

Las Vegas —PMMI celebrated the first anniversary of its Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN) with a keynote speech by Tana Utley, vice-president, Caterpillar, Inc., during Pack Expo, held Sept. 25-27 in Las Vegas. 

In her address, Ms. Utley offered seven key pieces of advice for women in packaging, processing and other engineering-focused careers.  Tips ranged from reading “The Art of War” to keeping the ledger of commitments to personal and professional life in equal balance. 

Ms. Utley also advised the more than 500 men and women at the networking breakfast that the best path to getting placed on big engineering projects is a willingness to participate in the smaller projects, first.

“Always be the employee with a hand in the air,” she said. 

Additionally, Ms. Utley described a formula for better workplace interaction and career growth: “Trust = Competence x Intimacy.” The key factor, she said, is intimacy — or more specifically — comfort. And that can often boil down to proper and appropriate communication.

“I remember when I was younger, and had not yet established my name at the company,” she recalled. “When I was working in groups, I was usually the only woman. Sometimes I’d get treated like a daughter, which is patronizing; sometimes I was treated like a potential date, which is also not the place you want to be.”

Ms. Utley explained that she overcame these challenges by honing her communication skills and identifying specific body language.

“Part of human nature is that when someone’s uncomfortable, you tend to tense up,” she said. “In that case, it’s important to focus on body language.” 

One way to do that, Ms. Utley said, is through networking in the right ways.

“Networking is not having a lot of friends on Facebook or LinkedIn,” she cautioned. “It’s about meeting people, interacting with them, understanding them and making real connections.” 

To accomplish such goals, PMMI formed the PPWLN last year with the specific goal to recruit, retain and advance women in the packaging and processing areas of manufacturing.

“The mandate of this network is very important to me personally,” said Lisa Hunt, c.o.o., Plexpack Corp. and PPWLN executive council member. “When I started in the industry, I hadn’t targeted manufacturing, and I didn’t look at packaging or processing as career choices. But once I got into the manufacturing industry, it opened my eyes to the multitude of opportunities that exist for women at a number of different levels and across different disciplines.”

According to a study by Deloitte, women make up 47% of the general workforce, but in manufacturing, they account for just 27%. 

“Manufacturing needs males and females,” said Sharron Gilbert, president and chief executive officer, Septimatech Group, Inc., and PPWLN executive council member. “We want to get women together and talk about common issues and concerns through mentorship and workshops.”

PPWLN plans to focus on core competencies necessary to help women succeed in processing and packaging, as well as create a recognition program to highlight achievements, said Tracy Stout, vice-president of marketing and communications for PMMI.

Next year, PPWLN will present educational and networking opportunities such as the first regional meeting in Philadelphia to coincide with Pack Expo East, April 16-18. Additionally, it will partner with PMMI’s Emerging Leaders Network and its Education and Workforce Development department.

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