Women in packaging: the road to a gender-diverse industry

Packaging is traditionally a male-dominated industry, but with initiatives like Women in Packaging, workplaces are becoming more and more diverse.


As part of International Women’s Day last month, European packaging firm Rajapack carried out research into how women have advanced in what are, traditionally, male dominated sectors.

Packaging, logistics and supply chain are sectors that have all suffered from a lack of gender diversity. Co-founder of the Women in Packaging Initiative Joanna Stephenson, and head of customer service at Rajapack Clair Ball shed light on the how the sector can develop a more diverse work environment.

How can packaging companies leverage the talent of their female staff, and what programmes should be put in place for internal development?

Joanna Stephenson: More than ever, all companies need to be acutely aware of diversity policies and needs and, gender aside for a moment, the recognition of senior staff as leaders is essential for leveraging talent within the workplace. On a basic human level, appreciation confirms value, in turn increases employee satisfaction and productivity.  When applied to women in a traditionally male dominated industry like packaging, logistics and supply chain, recognition becomes an even more powerful force for equality.

Mentoring and coaching programmes are also a great way to empower employees. By developing interpersonal and leadership skills such as negotiation, the workplace is better navigated, the risk of intimidation is lessened and by championing initiatives like Women in Packaging, Aspire and Forward Ladies, businesses are promoting awareness of a network which allows women to learn, grow and celebrate their success.

Clair Ball: Most packaging companies now offer graduate programmes, training academies and career development. Rajapack has recently introduced the ‘RAJA Academy’ to offer all existing employees and new employees the opportunity to develop their careers.

Have you come across any great practices or models which others can learn from?

JS: Absolutely. Forward Ladies is a brilliant example of a multi-industry networking group.  As the only Women’s network with a regional and national reach, they’re on a mission to create a global platform that connects women to opportunities, networks and expertise that helps achieve aspirations; the aim is to empower, to create a female culture of empowerment within all industries.

Myself and Debbie Waldron-Hoines, executive director at EFIA, have also co-founded the Women in Packaging initiative, raising awareness and celebrating the important contribution that women make to the packaging industry. We connect with many inspirational ladies and encourage employers to recognise and retain talented female industry specialists.

CB: The best practices that I’ve seen place value on the merits of the qualities of the individual. Rather than saying that entry is for ‘graduates’ only, they focus on the talents of the individual and what they can offer the company. The aim of ‘RAJA Academy’ is to focus on each individual and offer the training and mentorship, to allow the individual to develop and reach their potential.

Do the companies you have worked for do enough to provide for a range of lifestyles, for example flexible hours or childcare?

JS: In a nutshell, no. Although they do adhere to very strict guidelines where equality and diversity are concerned, flexible hours and childcare initiatives like HSBCs Parental Leave scheme are certainly not presented as options for senior staff, nor for those wishing to progress to a more senior level.

I appreciate that seniority in business and flexibility don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but sometimes, necessity prevails. At PHD, we advocate flexible hours and childcare allowances to cater for the needs of the individual without sacrificing productivity, or employee wellbeing.

CB: Yes, Rajapack has a flexible working policy and care for dependents (be it for children and elderly relatives). I myself work three days a week to spend quality time with my young son.

How important is the promotion of mathematics and the sciences at an education level to encourage more women to enter manufacturing trades like the packaging industry?

JS: Critical. However, one of the key issues for the packaging industry is not the lack of skills learnt from mathematics or science, but more the lack of industry-specific skills such as packaging science for food products and supply chain management.

Another key issue is that although the print and packaging sector is the 4th largest in the UK, it’s still not recognised as a definitive industry and as such, is rarely presented to school and college leavers as a career path. Until we recognise the breadth of opportunities open to men and women in the packaging sector, we will continue to struggle to recruit educated and motivated employees. 

Those wishing to find out more about the Women in Packaging initiative can also contact the team via womeninpackaging@gmail.com.

CB: It is very important dependent of the entry level. I believe this is important if working within the manufacturing of packaging. Rajapack teaches these aspects to understand packaging production, costs and distribution within the ‘Raja Academy’.  

What advice do you have for women hoping to progress in the packaging workplace?

CB: Talk to specialist packaging recruitment companies. Ask the consultant to find out what development is offered and what does the company already have in place. I would always advocate networking with other women working within the packaging industry.