What are the benefits and challenges of being a female in this industry? How do you manage working in an environment where you are often the only woman? Do you have any advice for aspiring female leaders in this field? Tune in to hear what Kasie Fairbarn, Product Sales Manager for Blown Film from the Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation has to say.
00:00:22 Sara Januszewski
Hello and welcome everyone to the Flexible Packaging Round Table. Happy New year. Today we are speaking with Kasie Fairbarn, Product Sales Manager for Blown Film from the W&H Corporation about diversity, being a female in the manufacturing industry, and her advice for aspiring female leaders. And I am your host, Sara Januszewski. Thank you for being here Kasie. Are you ready to jump right into the questions?
00:00:49 Kasie Fairbarn
Yes, thanks for having me, Sara. Let’s jump in.
00:00:53 Sara Januszewski
Yeah, so to start, can you just tell our viewers and listeners more about yourself and the work you do for W&H Corporation?
00:01:01 Kasie Fairbarn
Sure, nice to see everyone today, virtually. My name is Kasie Fairbarn and I’ve been in the packaging industry for 18 years. You know, coming on this new year 2023, it reminded me that I’ve been doing this for 18 years, so I’ve held a variety of roles in the packaging industry, as a packaging engineer and now I’m on the equipment side of things. I’ve also worked in the cosmetics side of the packaging industry. The personal care side of the packaging industry. The medical side of the packaging industry. So, I’ve held a lot of different roles along the value chain.
00:01:37 Kasie Fairbarn
In my current role in at Windmoeller & Hoelscher, I’m a product sales manager, so I’m working on the extrusion side of our business – blown film cast film, so any opportunity that comes through, any project that comes through comes across my desk at some point or another, and I really get the opportunity to work with a variety of our customers. Big, medium, small on all their extrusion needs, making sure that the equipment that they think they need is what they really need for their needs now and in the future.
00:02:08 Sara Januszewski
Great and next question here, what are the benefits and challenges of being a female in this industry?
00:02:18 Kasie Fairbarn
Well, if I think about the packaging industry holistically, I would say there’s quite a lot of females in this industry. When I used to be a packaging engineer, I was surrounded by females. My management was female, my colleagues were female. I had a lot of other females working around me, so the benefit of being in the packaging industry as holistically again is that I think you are not alone. There’s a lot of allies and mentors. And quite frankly, people who turn into friends and that’s wonderful to see others that you know look like you.
00:02:59 Kasie Fairbarn
When we talk about the challenges, I think that if you dig deeper into the pockets of the industry, there are some pockets that do not have the same kind of representation and those pockets are sales, they’re manufacturing, they’re even equipment like I’m doing now, so as I’ve taken different roles in my career, I’ve realized that not all of these pockets look alike. And so, when you find yourself in one of these pockets, it is challenging because you might be one of the only females in the room, in a meeting and so that for me was very different than the start of my career and I’ve had to navigate that quite frankly. And yeah, so that’s the challenge is depending on where you are. It might look different for you.
00:03:56 Sara Januszewski
Right, and how can more diversity be brought into the workplace? Specifically male dominated industries like packaging and manufacturing?
00:04:06 Kasie Fairbarn
Yeah, I think employers really have the opportunity right now to shift things and to bring in more diversity and part of my job at when Windmoeller is I travel around to different plants, and I talk to a lot of different people, and everyone tells me there’s a shortage of skilled labor. And we need to do something about it and companies are working around the clock to find this skilled labor, I’m sure you guys understand what I’m talking about at Glenroy.
00:04:33 Sara Januszewski
00:04:34 Kasie Fairbarn
I mean it’s not a one company problem, it’s an industry problem. So, I think with this problem comes opportunity to say “Hey, how do we look at the other 50% of our population better?” And how do we make sure that as we’re looking to find more skilled labor, can we also make this an area that works for women, right? Because there’s absolutely no reason that women can’t be more involved in manufacturing and in these types of roles that are traditionally, more male dominated, so the companies to me that are looking into that problem and using this problem as an opportunity are the ones who are going to be better off long term.
00:05:19 Sara Januszewski
Yeah, I love that. And what are some ways to get more women and minorities interested in pursuing careers in male dominated industries?
00:05:29 Kasie Fairbarn
I think it starts with education. It starts with educating our girls and young women about this and also minorities as well. I’m talking a lot about women, but I do want to talk about other minorities and diversity in general. But a great example of this is this summer my 9-year-old daughter was begging me to come to work. And so, I brought her to the office, which wasn’t very exciting for her, but it was because she got to learn about what I do, and she had no idea what blown film extrusion was. She had no idea about all these bubbles. These bubbles that I talk about on a daily basis, but she got to learn from the people in my office.
00:06:12 Kasie Fairbarn
She got to learn from me. She got to see it and funny enough, you know months later actually I was driving her to hockey with her little buddy and they were in the back, and she had a pouch of snacks and she said my mom makes this pouch and I giggled to myself because obviously I did not make that pouch. But she started explaining to this girl that this is made from flexible packaging, and it’s made from film and then they print on it and then they make a pouch and like my little heart was so proud because she knows what it is to be a teacher or a lawyer or a doctor or nurse or whatnot, but she also knows now about this industry. What I do, and that’s really, you know, broaden her horizon and I think it starts with just educating people and talking about it and then people will know that this is even an option for them.
00:07:04 Sara Januszewski
Right! And how do you manage working in an environment where you are often the only woman, you know? How has this changed from the beginning of your career to now?
00:07:19 Kasie Fairbarn
Yeah, I mean like I said earlier, I was never the only woman in the start of my career. And then, as years have gone by, especially recently, joining Windmoeller, the customers that I’m calling on and the conversations that I’m in, honestly, I am the only female in my meetings, on a plant tour, traveling with groups, what not most of the time. I mean, it wasn’t until I came into a role like this where I understood what the phrase ‘first only different’. And it was shocking for me because again, I felt like, well, this is 2022. This is 2023, I can’t believe I’m the only one sometimes, but for me personally I’ve navigated it by just being myself and not being shy to create relationships with the men around me and realizing that these men, who I’m surrounded by, they’ve all been so wonderful to me.
00:08:28 Kasie Fairbarn
They’ve all been so accepting, and they’ve wanted me to succeed. They wanted to help me. They, you know, sometimes we’ll be in a meeting where we’ll get to that point and somebody will say, “I’d really love to hear what Kasie has to say about this”, right? Because I have that different opinion and it’s interesting to my team and they want to leverage that and they want to hear it. So, while it’s been a challenge if I just kind of look around the room and say like, oh, you know I’m the only one, it is a really interesting opportunity to add perspective and I, you know I try to use it to my advantage. I guess nobody will not know who I am because I’m the only woman in the room. Yeah, so I mean I’m still learning how to navigate it. I’m definitely still learning how to navigate it, but I think it’s been such a nice thing for the people that Windmoeller, especially to be welcoming for me.
00:09:28 Sara Januszewski
Do you have any advice for aspiring female leaders in this field?
00:09:35 Kasie Fairbarn
So much advice. We don’t have enough time, Sara, but I just think that there is opportunity, so when it’s there raise your hand, say yes and it’s going to feel uncomfortable. And you know, but I think it’s one of those things you need to try, and you need to push yourself into that uncomfortable zone and say yes. And then also more opportunity is coming. You know, us just having this conversation and the skilled labor shortage I was talking about I really think that’s going to create more opportunity for women and minorities, people with disabilities, like whatever, it’s going to create a lot more opportunity and so keep your eyes peeled when it’s out there. Jump on it and like I said raise your hand.
00:10:22 Sara Januszewski
Yeah, definitely you know it’s all good opportunities to grow and build confidence. So, I love that and then just lastly here, is there anything else you’d like to add or shoutout?
00:10:34 Kasie Fairbarn
Well, I’d like to shoutout you and Glenroy for you know having this conversation. I’d really also like to shout out all the female leaders who are actually out there while there’s not many. There are some awesome business owners, CEO’s out there who have paved the way for people like me and you and I think, thank you to those people you know, we see them, and we look up to them and I hope they know that. And now it’s our opportunity to reach down and help people the same way they helped us. So, shout out to all those people out there and all those women. Thank you.
00:11:14 Sara Januszewski
Yeah definitely. And I mean just to conclude things here. I just wanted to thank you Kasie for joining us today. I mean, it was a pleasure having you on the podcast, and I really loved speaking about this topic with you. It was great.
00:11:28 Kasie Fairbarn
Yeah, thank you Sara so much. I appreciate it.