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8 March 2021

International Women’s Day – Choosing to Challenge Diversity across the Industry

International Women’s Day – Choosing to Challenge Diversity across the Industry

We spoke to women in the industry and asked them how the impact of the last year, including Covid and flexible working, has supported opportunities and changed views on career development, the gender gap in the industry, and how business perceptions towards print have changed.  

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is to “choose to challenge” and we have chosen to recognise women across our industry, demonstrating the challenges and achievements that they have faced over the past year. We asked women across the industry what their perspectives were on having to adapt in the pandemic, being a women in the industry, experiences around home working and team collaboration, and the gender pay gap. The evolution of the industry, with a more digital focus due to the pandemic, has seen challenges for everyone, and these women have highlighted these challenges and faced them head on. And as a mature industry, it is important that we reflect on the positives of the last year, diversity in the workplace, and the successes that have come out of it. 

There has been lots of relevant discussions in the media recently around the importance of acknowledging the gender pay gap. In 2020, the legislation requiring all employers with more than 250 employees to report their pay data was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only half of 10,000 employers impacted by the law provided data, due to the suspension, with an average gender pay gap amongst the participating companies being highlighted at 12.9% (Catalyst.org, 2021). 

Within our industry, which has stereotypically been male dominated, we are seeing an increase in women entering from production and non-production roles. Although, there is still a fairly uneven split, based on the last research that we, the BPIF, carried out before the pandemic, with 69% male compared with only 31% women, there is still progress being made. But, rather than just reflecting on the statistics, we wanted to take International Women’s Day as an opportunity to highlight successes in the industry, and hear how women’s perspectives in print, packaging and marketing services have changed throughout their careers.

The general consensus around diversity in the industry has seen improvements around diversity and the gender balance, compared to what it used to be like. Jackie Sidebottom, MD at Glossop Cartons, gave a very open and honest account of her experiences in running a business and how things have changed over the years since she joined the industry. It is great to hear how she believes that the “print industry is a fantastic industry and would recommend it to anybody as a career”, which is encouraging, considering the changes in the digital world that we are living in. Her account of juggling family life and business was very open and honest, as she went on to explain how she has seen the industry and perspectives of men and women working together change. Her perspective of meetings in “the early days” suggested there were meeting rooms dominated by men “who didn’t know how to deal with a young woman going to those meetings”, compared to what is now a complete parallel, where going to those “meetings now are a joy…and women are very welcome”. This really identifies great tribute to the change that has taken place over the last few years. In some ways, it is now almost hard to imagine a level of discernment in meetings as described. Although, arguably the ratio of men to women may still not be equal, there is certainly positive change. 

She also discussed how equally important it is for men and women to work together, as “they have different strengths and weaknesses”, as well as expressing why she felt being a women in a male dominated industry has its advantages; “you stand out, I think you get known”. Plus, a great piece of advice to women in the industry, although, great advice for anyone in the current climate: “be yourself, learn to say no to tasks or roles that don’t suit you. We are not superwomen, take care.” With circumstances changing, it is important for everyone to acknowledge and understand exactly what they feel they are capable of and ask for help where needed. 

We also spoke to Kelly O’Sullivan, who heads up the print management and publications team as Sainsbury’s who supported many of Jackie’s points. It was interesting to hear a brand’s perspective on how changes have impacted print and marketing services throughout the last year. Kelly explained how, Sainsbury’s “took the opportunity to stop developing the Argos catalogue and really develop a paper channel strategy that focusses on data to be able to utilise direct mail and door drop, more than we have in the past”. There has certainly been a change in how brands interact with print in the Covid environment, but still suggesting print is equally as important to combine with digital strategies. Kelly believes, as part of Covid, there have been lots of benefits and has chosen to take a positive approach to how flexible working in a digital focussed nature can help support women with career development. Kelly set up the Victoria Print Network 3 years ago, to give women the opportunity to network. “One of things that often came up is that women find it really difficult to balance having a family and a career” and that actually Covid could be seen as a really great opportunity to “weave (flexible working) into our new normal world… it would make a massive difference. I think it would help us to nurture the female talent that we have in this industry, but also attract more of it,” by giving opportunities to manage a greater work-life balance. 

Similarly, Kate Regan, CMO at Arian and Director at Cestrian, mentioned that “it was actually quite refreshing to see that men and women seemed to be sharing childcare responsibilities and also caring for vulnerable friends and family members.” This is a great example that dual-role responsibilities and diversity, both in the workplace and at home, are starting to come to light even more so due to the pandemic. “Within our head office in Austria there is an even split between men and women across the business, across all departments, including, within production, which is quite unusual for a manufacturing based business. And women are given the opportunity to do all the same roles as men do and are paid evenly for this.” This really highlights the changing nature around our industry and how things are changing, making diversity extremely important to emphasise as we move further into 2021.  

Kate also highlighted a seriously important message – to continue to support for diversity: “I think that our job and purpose as female leaders is to make sure we proactively encourage all ages and all sectors to achieve what they want to achieve, and their gender shouldn’t be a barrier to success.” She also explained how she hopes that she is a “good role model” to her 11 year old daughter, and “she believes she can achieve what she wants regardless of her gender”. Another important message to continue to drive change for further generations to come. 

What is really interesting and extremely positive to hear is that some women also feel like they haven’t ever been impacted by gender in our industry, which again, definitely highlights the positive changes that are evolving around the industry, although we are aware that this still isn’t the case for everyone. Sarah Tishler, Simpson Group, gave us a quote, “International Women’s Day is a funny one for me. I have never looked at myself as being a woman in the industry. I am a person, as are my colleagues. Gender has made no difference to me and I have never differentiated between myself and my colleagues through gender at any point in my student or working life.” And this is fundamentally where we are all aiming to get to with diversity. Jen Miller, BPIF Apprentice Council Member and Print Account Manager at Irongate, reiterates the importance of diversity, “It's the combination of the old and new that will push us forward, but I think we can all agree that true equality is the foundation of that.”, she identifies that as “a woman, who also came into the industry at its most progressive and diverse time… it seems over the last 3 years there's been a sort of awakening”. This really highlights how much change there has been to push diversity forward. 

The overall purpose of this piece, and for International Women’s Day is to encapsulate success for diversity. Arguably, there is still a way to go to reach a state of full equality, but change is moving in the right direction, which is clearly supported by the accounts of the women we have spoken to. Perspectives are changing, and as an industry we should continue to make the choice to challenge changes with diversity, the perception of our industry and how things will fair up as we move out of the pandemic, and into, what is looking likely to be a more flexible and digital world. 

Take a look at the full written or video accounts provided below:  

Kelly O’Sullivan – Print Management Controller, Sainsbury’s

 

Jacky Sidebottom – Managing Director, Glossop Cartons

 

Kate Regan – Chief Marketing Office, ARIAN GmbH, and Director, Cestrian

 

Jen Miller – Apprentice Council Member, BPIF, and Print Account Manager, Irongate

So after being in the print industry for almost a decade, I guess you could say anyone would have a lot to reflect on – but as a woman, who also came into the industry at its most progressive and diverse time, I've definitely got a lot to say.

In 2018 I was part of the International Women's Day panel at Printweek Live, discussing what it was like as a woman in the industry and I can't believe the stark difference I see between the industry then, and now – only 3 years later. Back then and for the majority of my career prior to that, I'd worked in a heavily male-dominated environment, and this shaped who I was as a person and in turn as a professional. It seems over the last 3 years there's been a sort of awakening, women are no longer forced to conform to patriarchal stereotypes. Women are speaking their minds and using their voices, demanding equality where it has been absent for far too long. 

Today, and certainly through the pandemic, I work with a team who are 90% female. Every day I work with women who are intelligent, resilient and flat out amazing at what they do. The reason that women are now flourishing in this industry is because we are exactly what it needs. Jokes about multi-tasking aside (although it definitely does help), the female perspective is just another perspective, but it's one that hasn't been considered equally for a long time. I see that when I’ve come across women who gained success in the industry, it’s by having to shout over men, by having to sacrifice their livelihoods and their relationships to not be considered weaker or less of a viable candidate. Women who are considered "dragons" or worse when they stood up to misogyny in the workplace. I see that when women attack other women because they've had to work so hard to establish themselves and they're petrified someone would take it away. When in reality, we need to be working together. 

The industry is on the rise again because people are finally taking on our ideas, and recognizing our talent. It's the combination of the old and new that will push us forward, but I think we can all agree that true equality is the foundation of that.  

References

Catalyst.org. 2021. [online] Available at: https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-the-workforce-uk [Accessed 4 March 2021]. 

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