This month is Women's History Month, and our industry employs many inspiring women who develop, manufacture, design and market the products we rely on. Women are an invaluable piece of the paper and wood products industry, and we are excited to share with you their stories.
This spotlight will focus on two women who are currently working in the industry, Lois J. Forde-Kohler, Fiber Innovation and Supply Section Head, at Procter & Gamble, and Marcy J. Thompson, Vice President of Marketing, Innovation & Sustainability at Sonoco.
Why did you get into the paper and wood products industry?
Lois: I have always loved science and thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. As I completed my college education, my dream changed, and the idea of veterinary medicine no longer appealed to me in the same way. I started searching for a new career direction, which would allow me to pursue science more broadly. Fortunately, my uncle was an alum of the Institute of Paper Chemistry, now called Renewable Bioproducts Institute, and he recommended that I consider graduate school there. The Institute used a “scientific generalist” approach to educate engineers for the pulp and paper industry because they realized that solving technical problems in the industry requires knowledge of multiple engineering and science disciplines to ask the right questions and ultimately solve problems. While at IPST, I interned at Procter & Gamble, which led to a full-time offer when I completed my graduate work with a Ph.D. in Paper Science and Engineering. I’ve been with Procter & Gamble for 25 years now. I currently lead our Fiber Materials Team and our Fiber Innovation Strategy for products like Bounty, Charmin, and Puffs.
Marcy: What initially attracted me to the industry and Sonoco, in particular, is its century-plus history coupled with its innovative spirit. Additionally, sustainability has been in our industry’s DNA since its inception, which also appealed to me! I also believed there was still room for innovation in what many people see as a mature industry. Much like technology or programming, I didn’t see many women in the business and felt like I could perhaps blaze a trail, make a difference and help set an example for other women.
What does a woman’s perspective bring to the table?
Lois: Women and diverse teams will think about solving problems differently. They come up with more ways to solve problems, and team creativity increases. Creative and successful problem solving is critical for our industry, especially now with a “do more with less” world.
Marcy: I am proud to sit on Sonoco's Executive Committee. When I think of what I bring to the table, it goes beyond my unique perspective as a woman leader. I also look at my diverse experience, having worked at General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Arcelor Mittal, prior to joining Sonoco in 2006. In addition, I bring a diverse skill set, including engineering, innovation, marketing, general management, and even process improvement, with my Six-Sigma Master Black Belt. All of these attributes, combined with my "softer" skills, like enthusiasm, inspiration and collaboration, allow me to contribute fully to my organization's current and future success. As a leader, when you can marry your head and your heart, everyone benefits!
Why should women be part of this industry? How is being a woman an asset to the industry?
Lois: The pulp and paper industry is an amazing place to work because whatever your passion and skills, there are ways to use them in this industry. Scientists have studied men's and women's brains a lot over time. It is known that there are anatomical, functional, and biochemical differences between men's and women's brains. Since the products that we make in the pulp and paper industry serve men and women, it's important to have both women and men represented in the process to design, produce, and supply our industry. Having women involved from the beginning to the end helps ensure that the final product serves the needs of consumers at the moment of truth. First, when consumers look at products on the shelf, and second, when they use the product at home.
Marcy: There is a saying, “People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.” As social consciousness continues to rise, our industry can provide the “why.” Having purposeful work, in a progressive industry, with deep-rooted values seems to appeal especially to young females. At Sonoco, I am always in awe of our female engineers, scientist, financial analysts and marketers. Their confidence, creativity, and intelligence inspire me every day! As the war for talent only gets more real, we need to encourage this talent pool to join our team, and we will provide a fulfilling and rewarding career.
What advice would you give to women looking to elevate themselves into leadership positions?
Lois: There are so many foundational skills and traits that women, who are moving into a leadership position, need. Women who want to be leaders need to be savvy and seek to understand and look for the question behind the question. The pulp and paper industry is dynamic, so we need to be able to adjust as changes come. Women need to be technically skilled in the space they hope to lead and willing to take smart risks. Women need to manage up and down as well as across functional interfaces. Building strong relationships is essential to managing up, down, and across. Other key elements of leadership include understanding the audiences they’re serving, what their needs are, and ensuring that communication is always appropriate for each audience. Lastly, resiliency is important. We all make mistakes. We need to quickly learn from them, bounce back and keep moving forward.
Marcy: Over the years, I have mentored hundreds of women and minorities. It’s something I am very passionate about. I always give the advice I received many years ago from Harvey Coleman, the author of Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed.
It’s called the “P.I.E. Model” for future leaders. Always Perform exceptionally well, cultivate the right Image, and gain Exposure, so the right people will know you. His study found that exposure is the element of the P.I.E. that had the greatest impact on a career. So, my advice is, take those stretch assignments that solve a strategic business problem, network internally and externally, and seek out mentors who will not only challenge you but also champion you!