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December 2017
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Salute to Women – October 2011: The doors are wide open

Women can get somewhere in their career by getting product from one place to another, or helping their customers do that.

If women were ever told they can’t get there from here – that they don’t have a place in material handling – that message is as old and dusty as a gravel road.

Now the message is, get up to speed, don’t be afraid to ask for directions and enjoy the ride.

The material handling industry, while still male dominated, is a good place to make a good living, women who have found a home in the industry said.

The keys to success – knowing your product, building relationships with customers – are not specific to either gender. It just takes a willingness to learn and work hard.

While material handling is probably not the first industry women think of working in, they encourage more women to take a look at the industry when they are looking for a job.

“Pallet rack, steel shelving – they’re not things a girl usually dreams of surrounding herself with when she enters the working world,” said Chastity Wilke, Vice President of National Accounts at Storage Solutions, Inc. “But if you focus on the fact that being a woman in this industry is just as satisfying and achievable as anything else, more young women would be willing to give it a shot.”

Just don’t expect the journey to be easy or quick.

“You have to be ready to trade in your fancy business suit for a pair of steel-toed boots and a hard hat. It takes time and knowledge to succeed in this industry, which are two things that can sometimes be lost on people just starting in the working world. If you remember that it takes a while to get your footing, once you give it a chance, I think you can surprise yourself,” Wilke said.

Wilke did not hesitate to join the material handling industry because it is male-dominated.  Out of college, she looked for a sales trainee position and started selling forklifts. That led to Storage Solutions, where she has worked for 13 years. 

“I love it. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. Storage Solutions has helped tremendously in providing me with the tools, knowledge and support to be comfortable in this industry,” Wilke said. “We also have such strong partnerships with our manufacturers that I have been surrounded by an incredible network that allows me to provide solutions to my customers.”

Intelligence and hard work are what you need to succeed, she said, and those traits are not gender-linked. And they are the keys to success in whatever you do.

“I believe it’s very important to know your products and to be able to respond to your customers’ needs. There have been a few who have challenged me over the years, but most have realized that I am just as capable as any sales guy in this industry,” Wilke said.

“I follow through from start to finish on a project and never leave them hanging. It’s like any other industry, really. You have to earn the respect of your peers.”

Wilke found her way to material handling through college recruiting.

“I think that no matter where you’re doing your recruiting, though, it’s important to highlight the fact that while this industry isn’t as sexy or glamorous as some other industries, it can be just as empowering and rewarding,” she said.

Becky Teague, senior inside sales support coordinator for Ross Clark, took a traditional route to an untraditional field: she answered a want ad.

“I had just relocated to the area and was in need of a job. My immediate background was in group health, dental and life insurance sales, but I was desperate enough to consider anything having to do with a service industry,” Teague said. “I believe the ad read ‘inside sales/customer service.’ I didn’t know who my potential employer was or anything about the company until I was actually interviewed.

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