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August 2017
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Women mentors lead the way

From driving forklifts to leading companies, women are working in every facet of material handling. But it is still a male-dominated industry, and becoming co-ed has happened slowly, one woman at a time. Mary Lou Jacoby resists being called a pioneer woman in material handling, but says she might be a “poster child.” In 1984, Jacoby bought a Kansas City building stuffed to the rafters, and among the stash were forklifts and shelving - warehouse1 was born. “See, shopping pays off,” she quips. She learned on the job, one shared by very few women. Now, she sees women in accounts receivable and marketing, traditional jobs for women. But she also sees women driving forklifts on the warehouse floor. “If you go to 10 warehouses, you see 10 women,” she said. As those women gain experience and move up through the ranks, there should be more women in executive positions. Right out of college, material handling might not be attractive to women, Jacoby said. It’s not glamorous. Material handling is not a job for a woman who wants to wear four-inch heels to work. “It takes a special type,” she said. “It’s challenging. It’s rewarding to be able to have the understanding and have the knowledge to be able to solve problems a distribution center is having.” If you’re competitive, it’s rewarding to go up against the best of either gender and win the sale or the contract, she said. “It’s a pretty good feeling.” Jacoby had to prove herself over and over. “I’m still doing it every day. That’s just the way it is,” she said. “Once you open your mouth and people in the room know that you know what you’re talking about, it fades pretty fast. Know what you’re doing. Be creative. Be yourself.” She has mentored both men and women, in material handling and in other fields. “It is so interesting the difference between the way men and women” approach their work lives, she said. Women feel the weight of “personal and family issues that impact the performance and outcome and commitment.” In other words, women are the ones who give birth to children and still are the primary caregiver, even though more and more men place a high priority on fatherhood.  Men also struggle with work life balance, but women are the ones who walk a balance beam every day. But they persevere. “I think the male readership should know that the women they deal with in every position are better educated, better prepared, smarter and more competitive than ever before. So look out,” Jacoby said. 

Some women came into the industry because of family ties. C&B Lift Truck Service is a certified women owned business, a designation that brings in some state contracts and “gives us a little bit more exposure,” said Melinda Barbaglia-Skaggs. Her mom and dad, Linda and Charles Barbaglia, started the business, and her dad has now retired. Barbaglia-Skaggs is vice president, her sister Teresa Bargalia-Pippin is corporate secretary and their mother is president. Women have to prove they know what they are doing in material handling, she said. “I do get those couple of men who still live in the 1940s and 50s. I love going in and showing them what I do know,” said Barbaglia-Skaggs, who does outside sales. She learned on the job, she said. “I’m still learning every day. I’m always doing something different. It’s fun. I love it.” After college, she had hoped to work in pharmaceutical or medical supply sales. But the economy was slow in 1992, and jobs were scarce. So her dad said ‘why don’t you come work here and give it a try.’ She started in public relations. “I wanted to do more. I wanted to sell. My dad was one heck of a salesman. He was not college educated but he had a lot of drive,” which she inherited. He is not involved day to day, doesn’t call to say did you make that sale. “He’ll offer his opinion every once in a while,” she said. In the last five to eight years, she has seen more women in the industry. “I’m just excited to see women in the field. It’s about time. Forklifts are the lifeline of any manufacturing facility and distribution center.”


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