Theme underscores crucial role of inclusion

Industry women celebrate IWD2024

IWD24's theme is #InspireInclusion, aiming to make women wlecome wherever they are
IWD24's theme is #InspireInclusion, aiming to make women wlecome wherever they are

International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024 is underway, with the theme #InspireInclusion encouraging people around the world to make society a place where women feel welcome and encouraged wherever they go.

Marked each year on 8 March, IWD aims to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Explaining the theme, IWD said: “This year's campaign theme underscores the crucial role of inclusion in achieving gender equality. 

“It calls for action to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create environments where all women are valued and respected. Inspire Inclusion encourages everyone to recognize the unique perspectives and contributions of women from all walks of life, including those from marginalized communities.

“One of the key pillars of Inspire Inclusion is the promotion of diversity in leadership and decision-making positions. Women, especially those belonging to underrepresented groups, continue to face barriers when seeking leadership roles. 

“By championing inclusion, organisations and communities can harness the full potential of diverse perspectives, leading to better decision-making and innovation.”

Printweek spoke to women from across the print and packaging industry to learn their perspective on how the industry has become more inclusive.

Olivia Stroud, sales director at 3 Way Displays, leads day-to-day at the bespoke visual merchandising firm.

She said: “I’ve been in the industry for five years now. When I joined, I was one of two women in the company of 20. Before then, I was a recruiter: I had always had a female manager, and always worked largely with women, so it was a big change coming into such a male-dominated industry. It was nerve-wracking, and, as I was new to the industry too, I definitely felt I had to work five times harder. 

“One of my ambitions is to have a strong recruitment policy for women – so we now have nine women working here, out of a team of 28. We’ve been able to recruit women into the factory, build up their skills base, new designers, and new sales team. When I started, as just one of two, I knew I wanted to drive that change.

“We have two women working in our factory at the moment. They’re both mothers, who were looking for part-time jobs. Because we’re able to work around their needs, like school pick-up, and be flexible, they’ve really been able to grow their skill bases.”

Geneve Gurr, apprentice on MacroArt’s (soon to be renamed Moss’) wide-format production floor and the winner, as of Wednesday 6 March, of the Printweek Awards’ Trainee of the Year, said: “It can be quite intimidating at the outset, coming into a predominantly male industry, but my team has been very, very welcoming and supportive.

“Even over the couple of years that I’ve been in the industry, there has been more of a drive to get women on board, and my ambition is to be a good advocate to get more women in the production side of the industry.

“My area of the business involves a lot of manual handling, and I’m quite a slight woman – some of my jobs involve manoeuvring five-metre rolls of media, so it has been really helpful that [MacroArt] made sure all the tools were in place to make it more accessible, so that everyone can handle the media. 

“Another thing that has helped me is that my team is very forthcoming with help, and has created a culture where you’re not afraid to ask. It makes it very easy to work as a team, and I feel like they are asking themselves how to make us newcomers as welcome as possible – and as fun as possible.”

Michelle Thirlby, InkTec’s freshly-promoted operations director, said: “As a female leader I want to nurture and develop the talent and self-belief of all my team – both male and female. There are a lot of egos in the printing industry and let’s face it that’s a bit boring now. 

“I think these really need to be put aside and investment placed on nurturing talent and passing on the knowledge learnt. Women in general, from my experience, are far more resilient than men. That skill should be taken and used for the purpose of the business, such as change management.

“Another reason to prioritise women in the workplace is the fact that diverse companies are more successful, as they allow innovation and multiple viewpoints.

“I am also so pleased to see such a focus on menopause in the workplace. More organisations need to tune into this demographic. If the environment or the management is unsupportive, it can also lead to women walking away from their career and success to date, which is a real loss to the business and industry. 

“I also think women need to mentor more. Pairing up women with strong female mentors is a good way to empower employees within the industry. 

“And equally male business leaders could get real benefit when looking to make changes to their company by working with female leadership coaches to explore how that could inspire or change their way of thinking.”

Lynda Cookson, Production Director at Affinity Packaging, said: “Manufacturing has not always been an industry that many women have thought about being involved in. 

“I'm proud to be part of a modern business that recognises the value us ladies bring to the table. International Women's Day is a reminder that if we create a supportive and inclusive workplace, our industry can be stronger when we embrace the unique skills and perspectives that women bring.”

Paula O’Brien has recently rejoined the industry, taking up the role of board director of sales at Ricoh UK in early March.

She said: “My career in tech spans 33 years in a typically very male-dominated industry.

“A lot has changed during that time, but not quite enough to balance equality and in my experience, women still need to work so much harder to prove their worth in certain corners of the industry. That said, I have enjoyed every moment and like anyone forging their career, I have been fortunate to have had some great sponsors along the way, both male and female.

“It is evident that the number of women in the industry is growing and importantly there are more women occupying senior positions. 

“Diversity in general is now widely recognised for the tangible value that it brings to any business, even impacting top line revenue & profit. 

“There is however still a lot to do, and change starts with early careers; we need to showcase our industry to females looking for STEM pathways, making it an accessible and interesting career choice that they may not have otherwise considered.”