A Manufacturer Where Women Run the Show
In a field where men traditionally dominate, it’s the women who rule at Plascon Group.
Until a few months ago, the specialty plastic packaging company was led by founder David Peterson, who recently stepped into his new role as executive chairman. Now, four out of the five leaders are women.
Peterson’s vision helped transform Plascon from a small blown film business 18 years ago into a $19 million supplier of packaging solutions to food service, bulk packaging and pharmaceutical companies.
The transition reflects the company’s growth plans, said Laura Wright, the company’s director of strategic planning who was handed the reins in late 2017.
“I think any business gets to the point where it experiences growing pains, where the next level up is a little painful as you increase your revenue, size, and depth,” Wright said. “David recognized that, and said ‘Okay, if we want to take the business to the next level, we need to do things a little differently.’ And he was smart enough to realize, ‘Well, maybe the person to figure out how to do that isn’t me.’”
Peterson is still involved with Plascon, working offsite in a private office. His job now involves monitoring the industry, watching for trends, keeping an eye out for new technology, meeting with clients and helping prepare the business for the future.
The company’s day-to-day decision making and management now falls to Wright and her leadership team, most of whom are all fairly new to Plascon.
Wright came on board in August of last year. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Klug was hired last July as the senior accounting manager and was promoted to the CFO role in early 2018 after his predecessor retired. Director of Human Resources Denise Scripter, meanwhile, marked her one-year anniversary with Plascon in February.
Chief Operations Officer Kate Wooer and Director of Sales Monique Lerczak were the only two hired prior to 2017.
With the transition, Plascon is gearing up for growth: Wright says the company is tracking growth rates of 25-30 percent per year and is currently recruiting new employees to expand its 80-person staff. In addition, Plascon’s systems and processes will undergo efficiency streamlining.
As an organization led primarily by women, Plascon is an anomaly in the business world. In 2017, women held just 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles.
In her role as HR director, Scripter said Plascon’s candidate pools still tend to skew male, with a correlation between job title and the candidates that apply.
“When we were in the process of identifying candidates for the role that Laura [Wright] ultimately was hired for, we went through several different job titles,” Scripter said. “I threw out a listing for a ‘president’ position: almost exclusively male candidates. But you throw out something like ‘strategic planner,’ and then the female candidates came.”
Wright thinks that certain job titles, even general ones, have become signifiers of skill sets and backgrounds that tend to skew male. However, she also believes that the skills most valued in corporate leadership are changing – a factor that could open the door for more female leadership in the future.
“When you think of the old C-suite professionals and the backgrounds they had, you had to have an MBA, you had to have a financial background,” she said. “It was very formally structured. Where now, I come from a communications and marketing background. And if you think about an organization and what the number one issue typically is, it is communication. It’s how you communicate with people and how you communicate your goals.”
Women are traditionally underrepresented in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). According to Catalyst, a nonprofit that promotes female-inclusive workplaces globally, women earned 35.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM, 18.7 percent of which was in engineering.
Plascon is bucking these trends. Wooer, who leads the company’s manufacturing team and makes sure that orders are processed and delivered on time, is an engineer by trade. She says her experience in a male-dominated field has not made her feel “limited.”
“I remember when I was back in college, going through orientation, and right away feeling like ‘Wow, I’m on the outside, because I’m a female,’” Wooer said. “But I’m happy to say that, moving forward in my career, it has always come down to how much effort I wanted to put into what I was doing.”
She attributes her current and past barrier-breaking roles as a reflection of companies hiring the best candidate.
“I’ve held some wonderful positions with some great companies, lots of times being the first woman that they’ve had in that role, but not having it ever looked at as, ‘Oh, this is an initiative to get a female in,’” she said. “I’ve felt like I was the best candidate and was the one who came in and was able to make a difference and a change, and that’s what I’ve felt like here at Plascon.”
Still, Wooer is glad to see a shift bringing more women to STEM and leadership positions in companies like Plascon. At school, her daughters have access to a slew of STEM opportunities, from engineering and robotics to advanced math. Wooer hopes that, by having those opportunities and seeing more women in high-level STEM positions, the next generation of girls will feel more freedom to pursue majors in traditionally male-dominated fields.
“My daughters now have more exposure than I did,” Wooer said. “So, I think we’re going to see this trend changing, because there are just a whole lot more opportunities. When my grandma and my mom went to school, it was education and nursing. It’s not that way anymore.”