Before people say that, women in material handling often have to prove their knowledge and expertise to skeptics who don’t expect a woman in the field. Material handling is still male dominated, but more women are entering all facets of the industry. And as it becomes more visible as a career choice for women, the ratio of men to women will become more equal.
“I previously worked in the automotive field for 15 years,” said Dedee Baugher of Grindstaff Engines. “I worked in the office at first and moved to a supervisory position in service then on to parts. That is how I met my current employer Rick Grindstaff. He needed someone to assist him at Grindstaff Engines and I decided to make the move,” said Dedee Baugher.
Material handling was “not so much on my radar, however I had some knowledge of engines and parts. Grindstaff Engines is an engine rebuilder focusing on forklift engines. Since I worked with engine sales, parts and service at my previous employer it seemed to fit well,” she said.
Baugher did not hesitate because the field is male dominated. “I was already seasoned for that issue. The automotive field is also very male dominated, probably more than the material handling field.”
And material handling is not as male dominated as it once was. “Over the years, it has changed quite a bit. I have been in the material handling business about 17 years now and talk to several females every day. In fact I think I might talk to as many females as males now,” Baugher said.
But she still feels she has to prove herself.
“It takes a lot of patience. Generally when you receive a call and they insist they need to talk to someone else (because you couldn't possibly know what they are talking about) you have to prove them wrong. I then tactfully ask a few questions and tell them the part they do not say--proving I know my stuff. Just a few people have issue with it, mostly old school males that can't imagine we females know anything about an engine or parts.”
Material handling does have space for women.
“Most people in this field are nice, friendly, courteous and fun. We have customers all over the US and beyond. That makes for some interesting conversations. As I said previously there will always be (no matter what field you are even in) certain ones that may not think you belong. Stick with it and overcome that issue. I tell my children and grandchildren you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
Material handling offers new challenges almost daily, with chances to grow.
“I started in an administrative role while taking night classes to earn my bachelor’s degree, developed a passion for the industry, so stayed and continued to climb the corporate ladder,” said Dannelle Dahlhauser, of MH Equipment Company. “I’ve been in the industry for over 12 years now and am the director of marketing and sales support for a company with 30 branches in 10 states and over 750 employees.”
She did not set out to work in material handling. “Unless you have family involved in the industry, it’s often easily overlooked. That is why those of us in the industry need to help gain awareness for the opportunities available – particularly for women,” Dahlhauser said.
“The material handling industry is definitely male dominated. There are areas that still possess the ‘good ‘ol boy’ atmosphere, but in spite of that and the fact that it is male dominated, the industry in general is making a good shift to allow women to be successful.
“The only time that I feel out of place or treated differently is when I am outside of my dealership at industry events or meetings. I do feel the need to prove my knowledge and skills more than usual. However, this could be said for anyone outside of their usual comfort zone. Overall, I think women do have to try a little harder in the material handling industry to gain respect of their male counterparts – simply because it’s a non-traditional female industry,” Dahlhauser said.
“At this point in my career, I don’t think my daily work is affected by the fact that I am female. I have gained the respect of those in my dealership and others in the industry by putting in the effort to understand the ins and outs of material handling. I am good at my job and that is simply all that matters,” Dahlhauser said. “There used to be times when I would get frustrated because someone asked me to do something menial or deemed as ‘female’ work such as fix a PowerPoint or write a letter… but in time, I came to realize that they weren’t asking me because I was female, they were asking me because I’m good at PowerPoint and I have good writing skills.”
For young women considering a career in material handling, Dahlhauser has this advice: “Learn all that you can about the industry and your company. You will gain respect by being knowledgeable and good at what you do. Be strong and have broad shoulders.”
For Misti Peak, aftermarket sales representative in for MH Equipment Company in Cincinnati, a career in material handling started with a part-time job during college. “I started answering the phones (receptionist) at a forklift dealership, which led to me moving into the service department to learn other roles and become more familiar with the industry. I worked as a service coordinator and then moved into dispatching and then to rental manager. After four years of learning the industry in those various positions, I finally landed in sales. I have been in a sales role for approximately 19 years and have been in the industry for 23 years.” It is an interesting, challenging way to make a living.
“There are not many women in the industry,” Peak said. “Out of my 23 years in the industry, besides administrative positions, I have worked with two females in a sales role.” There have been times she felt out of place, but that “only drove me to work harder and be more successful. I can get the job done as well as, or better than anyone doing the job I am doing.”
Monica Foszcz, material handling specialist, fleet management and equipment sales for MH Equipment, happened upon material handling by accident. She was undaunted by the relative scarcity of women. “I had been in male dominated industries prior to this one, so I was used to it,” Foszcz said. “It is a very male dominated industry, though I’m seeing more women on both the customer and vendor sides.”
Sometimes being a woman “helps to get your foot in the door, but once you do, you better know what you are talking about,” she said. “I would certainly encourage (a woman considering material handling) because I think it can be a very fulfilling industry to be in and one that is constantly changing. But in order to be taken seriously, she needs to do her homework and be educated on the product and the industry.”
MHEDA recently started a Women in Industry initiative to connect women working in material handling.
“The women involved with MHEDA are very enthusiastic about this initiative and anxious to get involved. They are all very engaged and eager to connect with other women in the material handling industry and have recently starting a mentoring program to foster growth among women who are new to this industry. This has been very positively received,” said Rebecca Hein, networking coordinator and meeting planner for MHEDA.
It is estimated that men hold 80 to 85 percent of executive and senior level positions in material handling. Some of the things women want to discuss are how to bridge communication style differences between men and women, help men understand why they want to be part of material handling and how to change the industry culture.
The Women in Industry Initiative has a tele-networking program, holds a breakfast at the MHEDA annual convention in May, and next fall, it will host its first conference, with the date to be announced.
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.