When Packaging Technology Offers Plenty of Room for Creativity
How can the packaging industry increase its share of women and thus also gain more female role models in leadership positions? Possibilities are access via design and creative opportunities in training.
Young women often have reservations about a STEM education path. 40 percent fear difficulties and being overwhelmed in education, according to a finding of the study "STEM Education. What Young Women Think About It" of the International University (IU) in Erfurt. Surprisingly, 70 percent of young women say they have a personal interest in science and technology. Professor Alexandra Wuttig, chancellor of the IU, believes that in order to counteract the trend, society urgently needs more female role models from STEM occupational fields, “Because role models in the immediate living environment, such as teachers and family members, but also from the business world, have a great influence on later study and career choices.” However, according to the study, it is precisely these that are lacking: according to the results, only a few of those surveyed have female friends or female relatives who work in technical professions.
There is also a lack of women in top positions in the packaging industry. But there are other numbers as well. The proportion of women at the HdM Stuttgart Media University speaks for itself: currently, of 199 students enrolled in the bachelor's degree program in packaging technology, 118 are female.
That a lack of women among the students at the HdM is not an issue can be confirmed by the two academics Dr. Maria Erxleben (53), Professor of Logistics and Transport Packaging, and Martina Lindner (35), Professor of Fibers, Environment and Packaging. One of the ways the university explains the high percentage of women in packaging technology is that the course offers a lot of room for creativity and design and thus appeals to more people.
“Packaging technology is a ten-bout discipline. It is versatile. There is a lot of room for creativity, which is a strength of many women. That's what I try to explain to young women,” Erxleben says. Each and every one can determine her own specialty in this decathlon, she adds. “We train generalists who can specialize.”
As a logistics specialist, she says she discovered a fascination with packaging early on. The topic of sustainability plays a big role in the public eye, she says, but packaging has a bad reputation in this regard. Erxleben thinks this is also a reason for the lack of young talent. Yet every packaging engineer works on the sustainable development of materials and systems.
The professor knows the industry from many perspectives, having worked in the industry for Bosch for 22 years, including several years in Malaysia. “I was a working mother of two children at the time, and my husband worked in China.” That wasn’t always easy, she says.
“It's no different in the packaging industry in terms of management positions than in other industries. Women who have children are often happy if they can get their old position after parental leave and don't even dare to reach for anything higher,” says Martina Lindner, who is currently on parental leave. Her second child is only a few weeks old, but as with the first, she doesn't want to take too long a break. “At the university, it's easier to balance family and career than in companies. That's my experience,” says Lindner.
Jule Schmitt, a 25-year-old packaging engineer, has been working for supply chain management at Physik Instrumente (PI) GmbH for a month. “I applied on my own initiative because the company's product world appealed to me,” she says. “I am most fascinated by the interface work. From the selection of materials to product protection, design, and distribution, I have a lot to consider,” Schmitt explains. She hopes that more young female packaging experts will make their way into high positions. “Sometimes I get the impression that some women lack the confidence to apply for higher positions. I think that's a shame.”
Job hunting is still ahead for 23-year-old student Emma Schüttoff. She is currently writing her bachelor's thesis in packaging technology at the HdM on the subject of life cycle assessments for packaging and materials. So far, she says, she hasn't paid attention to whether there are more men or women working in the industry. “At the university, the ratio is balanced. I chose the program because I wanted to learn something that combined creativity, technology, and sustainability.” The Stuttgart student is convinced that innovative packaging can contribute a great deal to sustainability.