The industry needs a better focus on gender imbalance

Writing the words ‘women in print’ feels clunky, uncomfortable and outdated. Surely in 2018, it shouldn’t even be a term or subcategory discussed in the media? However, as much as we dislike it, it is.

Quite rightly, stories about the gender-pay gap and poor numbers of females in top jobs in multinational corporations still dominate the headlines. It seems the truth is the industry is still top heavy with 50-something white men in suits. 

PrintWeek caught up with women working in print to find out how they feel about the industry and what changes they’d like to see in the future.

How did you end up in print?

Sophie Goodall is marketing manager at the Colyer Group providers of print solutions as well as office supplies and creative services. She saw the allure of the industry after growing up around a father who runs his own print company. 

She says: “I’ve worked directly in print for four years, with an international print management company, and now with a group of companies that specialise in large- and small-format print, as well as print machines. My father owns The Colour Crew, so I grew up around giant cardboard Terminators and Crayola crayons. 

“Whenever he sees print, he has to touch it, look at it closely – he really inspects it, he even bends down to touch a floor graphic. It’s a habit I’ve picked up, and I can’t help but chuckle to myself every time I find myself appreciating some good print. It’s probably why I love well-produced direct mail. I never intended to work in the print industry, I just fell into it, and I love it. As a marketing professional I have a lot of transferable skills, so I may work in other verticals in the future, but my love of print will endure – and when it works, my campaigns will always include beautiful and innovative print.” 

US-based Deborah Corn is the self-titled ‘Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse’ at Print Media Centr and seems to be a bit of a maverick in what can be quite a conservative industry. After a 25-year career in print production, she took a leap into the ‘industry’ side of things about 10 years ago: “Like most people I fell into the industry. My first job was as a sales assistant and I knew pretty quickly that wasn’t for me. That company had an in-house marketing department. They were tucked away from the corporate people, played loud music, wore street clothes and were actually having fun while they were working. 

“A position opened to create and manage all of the slide presentations the executives did – I applied and got it. That opened all of the doors that followed, and I have never looked back.”

In 2012, Corn partnered with Mary Beth Smith the creator of ‘Girls Who Print’, which started out as a LinkedIn group and is now a professional network of more than 6,000 women. “Mary Beth Smith retired this year, so I’m changing things up a bit. I created a Girls Who Print Council, and we are in the process of developing a professional mentoring programme for women in all stages of their careers. We must attract more young women and more diverse minds and bodies into the industry, but more important we need to keep them,” explains Corn.

Has the relevance of gender changed since the start of your career? 

The million-dollar question to which most people want the answer to be is ‘no’, is gender in the workplace still relevant? Goodall believes it is: “Yes – in the print, and selling printers arena, being a man gives you a leg up – it’s still a ‘boy’s club’, and because a lot of the people working in print are men, it will be an industry that will take a while to change, especially near the top.”

Corn is forthright with her answer: “How can it not be? Women get pregnant. That automatically makes gender relevant as far as working somewhere that has sufficient benefits and doesn’t penalise their careers for creating life. Yes, as far as I can see from out here. And I mean literally, see. I see more women working in trade show booths – actual employees, not ‘booth babes’ – and I see more women walking the show floors. I see more companies putting emphasis on hiring women and supporting programs that help women owned businesses. It is important to show that a company is ‘woman-friendly’ these days.” 

Goodall believes that industry needs to work on its image to make itself more appealing to younger candidates. “I think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously, especially if they have less print experience, but it’s heading in the right direction. I think our biggest issue is that print is dominated by men over 50 – and it’s not an overly inviting industry, from the outside it seems like boring machinery and repetitive work, and some of it is, but the industry is still evolving, it’s creating new and innovative products, and we need fresh blood to see how we can keep moving forward”. 

Do you feel that the industry is becoming more balanced?

Corn believes the word ‘balanced’ is subjective: “Just because I see more women in trade show booths or walking the floor at events doesn’t mean they have any power or can rise to the same levels as their male counterparts. Balance would mean that for every position in a company there is an equal chance for a male or female to occupy it. 

“I would suggest everyone looks around and takes notice to see if this is true where they work. Do they see a balance of power amongst the genders? I’m thinking most won’t, so therefore there is still significant balance work to be done.”

Sam Armstrong founder of Make It Happen, which offers training to print and signage companies, says that the industry has still got a lot of work to do to make it more welcoming to women: “The people on the Make It Happen training courses are predominantly men. Only recently have we seen the first programme with a half-and-half, male/female ratio. 

“As a female standing up presenting to a roomful of men, sometimes you have to just to be one of the lads and adapt to who is in the room. There is still a great deal of work to be done to make the industry more appealing to women. I sit on the board of the British Sign and Graphic Association and surprisingly I’m the only female board member. This needs to change.” 

Women only networking opportunities – necessary or outdated?

Love them or hate them, female-only focused networking and business groups are on the increase. Although some women see them as a great way to increase their confidence and make new connections in a less ‘male and salesy’ manner, others think they just add to the further marginalisation of women within an industry. 

Goodall believes that “positive discrimination is just as damaging as sexism in the long run”. She says: “The right person for the job, should have the job. Men and women are capable of thinking strategically, emotionally and logically. I don’t want anyone to ever say I only got the job because I’m a woman and they had to choose me over a man. 

“That being said, I do whole-heartedly support the encouragement of women to achieve their high ambitions, and the accolades for doing so. Celebrating women in print is a positive movement as it will attract more talent to the industry.” 

How would you like to see the industry change for those just starting their career?

Goodall: “I’d love to see more learning available. If my father had a different job, I don’t think I would have been attracted to what print could do. There is a bright future for print, as long we educate those just starting out with why print matters in the wider business and marketing world – then we will see a mind shift towards a print revolution. I can see it starting, and I can’t wait to see it come to fruition!”

Armstrong: “The way the industry recruits needs a massive overhaul to attract more women into production roles: “There’s a very big divide in roles, with more men working in sales and production. From what I’ve seen, for some reason production seems to scare some women. We need to ask why this is? I think it’s sometimes questioned when women go into a factory, almost ‘what they are actually doing there’. I want women to have more confidence. In many cases, women tend to still get pushed into admin positions or accounts. However, having said that, we’re now seeing more women getting involved in project management, which is a great thing. It will be hard to change the issues of getting more women into the factory environment, but it needs to be done. Given half a chance, the industry is very creative, and this is an area that women tend to be strong at.” 

Corn: “We have both an attraction and a retention problem when it comes to women and the print industry. Until there are a significant number of women in policy making and power positions, this will probably continue. My hope is that the Millennials, who are the most diverse generation to date, really tear down the walls when they get the power. In the meantime, if we want any of those 22-37 years old working in print, we need to do all we can to develop and nurture those relationships based on their needs, not ours.” 


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