Once women walk in the office door or drive on to the warehouse dock, they find a home in material handling. While still staffed by more men than women, material handling is an industry where women can have a career. Those who find a place in the industry tend to stay.
Some women come into material handling through family connections, some through college programs, some deliberately and some by accident.
While Melinda Laake, manager of enterprise solutions for Raymond Corporation, did not start out in material handling, “for me, it was a natural career progression. I started out as an industrial engineer, and became a manager. When I got out of school, I was actually working for an airline.” With transportation and management in her background, her path to material handling was paved.
She notices no reaction to her gender at work. “There are certainly more men than women in the material handling industry. But over the last years, I have definitely seen more women come in,” and those women are working in many aspects of material handling.
“I think material handling is very complimentary to other industries. It affects the bottom line of corporations, with just-in-time warehousing and e-commerce. Material handling is ever evolving. I’ve seen dramatic changes, and changes are happening more quickly. It’s a very understated industry. A lot of people don’t understand the complete impact of material handling,” Laake said. “For me, it’s been very rewarding. I’ve been given the opportunity to influence a lot of changes.”
Brooke Bartlett, of United Material Handling said “I have seen a growing number of women in our industry, especially in the managerial and the sales roles.” And there is room for more, she said. “In my opinion, the material handling industry has been largely run by men, and if companies want to attract more women to join their team, they need to start by recruiting and training women in the positions they would like to fill. Cultivating current employees to the culture of equality in the workplace is also key. In order to attract and keep women in the workplace, the rest of the team must provide a welcoming atmosphere and management needs to promote equally within the company regardless of man or woman,” Bartlett said.
“I started in the material handling industry in the accounting department and was mentored and taught the material by my boss. I transitioned into dealer sales and eventually into the Controller position. After five years in the industry, my partner and I started United Material Handling where I help oversee all functions of the business,” Bartlett said.
When Liz Martin’s husband was working for an appliance company, he needed something to cover the wheels of hand carts so they didn’t mark floors. Using a pair of shoe covers didn’t work, because they kept coming off. So she made a tire cover, and TireBooties.com was born. Other products followed. She has noticed no reaction to her gender, but does notice more men than women in the field. “Women are very capable of handling anything with material handling,” she said. Being detail oriented, knowledgeable and confident are assets. “Once they get in there and get going, believe me, these girls fly,” Martin said.
For the number of women in material handling to increase, it will take “open minded businesses that are willing to hire women in a traditional male industry and encouraging those women to use their bright minds whether that is in sales, warehouse, marketing, freight or accounting,” said Char Norman, contracts manager for Warehouse 1. The number of women “seems to be declining, but that could be just from my perspective. It is interesting though when women work together – the amount we can accomplish together is spectacular in the right setting,” Norman said.
“Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, right? So a female perspective can sometimes (at least) create an environment by which we can look at the industry through different eyes. Women also tend to be great mentors, with patience and acceptance of a lot of people and situations. Women have lots to say so…. Don’t be afraid to say it! This industry is and can be a very exciting one to be in. Make the most of thinking about things from every angle and creating an impact,” Norman said.
Myra Struchtemeyer, accounting specialist at Warehouse 1, said women with ambition, drive and confidence add to the industry, and bring “a totally different perspective as well as more patience to convey information.” Women need to feel welcome in the industry.
“We need to make the industry more appealing to women,” said Laura Keene, business development associate for Warehouse 1. “When you first come to any material handling company, you can tell immediately that it is a predominantly male environment and that is always intimidating. What women do not realize is that it takes a certain individual male or female to work in the industry and we need to get that out there.
“What I do notice from my work with other vendors and end users is that once a woman gets her foot in the door and finds her place they tend to stay and do well,” Keene said. “Women bring a new view and look to things, men can be very make it work and if doesn’t work, work harder not smarter. Women have the ability to step back and see things from a different light. We also tend treat everyone as equals and not deliver harsh criticism.
“Logistics and material handling are something that this world is always going to need, so if you enjoying putting puzzles together and do not mind getting dirty in the mix then jump in this industry is ripe for the taking and I think we are going to see a lot more successful females down the road.”
MHEDA is starting a group for women in the industry. “We have a group of women who are MHEDA members serving as an ad hoc steering committee to get this initiative underway and right now, we are developing a mission statement,” said Liz Richards, executive vice president of the Material Handlers Equipment Distributors Association. Planning for the group is in its very early stages, but it will be a forum for women in the industry to share best practices, provide mentoring services and network. MHEDA hosted a breakfast meeting at its annual convention to gather feedback from women in the industry, offered roundtables at its Emerging Leaders Conference so women could discuss their experiences, and launched “Women in Industry” MHEDA-NET groups to provide networking opportunities.
Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Mary.