On International Women’s Day 2018, Mondi reflects upon the strides women are making in the packaging and paper industry – and what more can be achieved with ambition, and the right support
Women have long played roles in the packaging and paper industry, but not always the most visible roles. Today that situation appears to be changing.
“In recent years, the pulping and papermaking curriculum at our university has been dominated by female students,” says Dr Vizárová of the Slovak University of Technology’s Department of Wood, Pulp and Paper, in Bratislava. “After graduation, these young women are often employed in factories in leading positions that require competence and leadership, as technologists, managers or researchers.”
This trend could be very good news for the packaging and paper industry, as a recent global study has shown that companies with significant numbers of female leaders are more profitable.
An early example of a woman who innovated paper and packaging is the American Margaret E. Knight. In 1871, Knight invented and patented a folding and gluing machine to automate the production of flat-bottomed paper shopping bags. She and a business partner established the Eastern Paper Bag Company, and the technique she pioneered is still used in bag production today.
Mondi aims to encourage and empower potential Margaret E. Knights of today to build their careers in packaging and paper manufacturing. Professional training, coaching, women’s networks – and flexibility for life-work balance – are all part of the plan.
Empowerment through training and coaching
Viv McMenamin is CEO of Mondi South Africa and among Mondi’s most senior leaders. She believes that leadership training, coaching and feedback helped her succeed in the various senior positions she has held during her 15 years at Mondi.
“I have been very privileged to have been in several positions which, until my appointment, had only been held by men,” says McMenamin. “This includes being head of our forestry division in South Africa and now the CEO of Mondi South Africa.
Mondi leadership supported my progression by ensuring that I had access to an excellent coach and regular feedback through our 360 degree surveys, which enabled me to develop as a leader. More recently, Mondi sponsored my attendance at the IMD High Performance Leadership course, which further honed my leadership skills.”
Among the many training, coaching and mentoring opportunities Mondi offers its employees is a two-day workshop called ‘Success Management @Mondi’, which aims for a 50/50 gender ratio and specifically addresses women’s career strategies for senior management positions. The training covers skills such as self-reflection, self-marketing, effective networking and communication, and professional approaches to managing others.
Freedom to balance career and family
Mondi offers its employees the chance to work flexibly or remotely, whenever feasible, so they can make important choices in life – such as starting a family – without fear that their career will be jeopardised. Crucially, Mondi provides maternity and paternity leave.
Kim Lieckens recently took on the post of Deputy Managing Director of Mondi Heerlen, a release liner plant in the Netherlands. Her daily commute of up to an hour and a half each way might have posed a challenge to her as the mother of a four-year-old son. A flexible work schedule was the solution.
Lieckens says, “A balance between family life and a professional career is very important to me. I’m pleased that we could find a good flexible solution that allows me to take on a senior leadership position and have time with my young family. It’s great that Mondi offers this kind of flexibility and, in this way, supports women in developing their careers.”
Networks of current and future leaders
In Vienna, Mondi has established several programmes aimed specifically at supporting women in developing their careers and reaching leadership positions. Similar initiatives are taking hold in Mondi’s business operations around the world.
The Mondi Professional Women’s Network (MPWN) provides a forum for women at Mondi to meet regularly and discuss topics of strategic importance. Recent discussions have ranged from social megatrends and digital leadership to self-branding and effective speaking.
Tatiana Proshutinskaya, a Mondi procurement project manager, participates in the MPWN. She points out that according to the 2016 International Business Report by accounting firm Grant Thornton, Russia has the highest percentage of women in senior business roles, with 45% compared to 24% in the EU and only 15% in Germany.
Proshutinskaya comments, “I find it interesting to know why women in Europe are under more pressure to choose between career and family. I think it comes partly from social roles women are expected to play, and partly from the infrastructure – for example, kindergarten with short working hours. MPWN is the right place to discuss such topics, broaden our mindset and gain confidence that we can achieve much more, both professionally and personally.”
‘Yes, She Can!’ is a workshop for women in the early stages of their careers at Mondi. This can be a critical time when many women contemplate whether or not to push ahead in their careers. This six-hour workshop, followed by a networking dinner with one of Mondi’s female senior leaders, aims to put the issues in perspective. It gives participants an open framework for discussing the challenges, obstacles and rewards of pursuing their ambitions. They share insights on how to define and balance personal and professional goals, and short-term and long-term career planning.
Viv McMenamin, CEO Mondi South Africa, summarises, “Mondi is a great global group that really gives opportunities to all its employees to develop and grow. For young women, this means the opportunity to enter a sector and professions which, while traditionally male-dominated, are now really opening up to them in Mondi.”
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Businesses are strengthened and better prepared for the future when they make space for young people to learn hands-on, engage and contribute with their unique skills, writes Mondi’s Group HR Director Michael Hakes.