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How We Can Create Gender Equality in the Wide-Format Print Industry

The issues can be overcome if everyone is willing to make the effort.

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WE’VE ALL READ the articles, some in this very magazine, that discuss why women don’t start more businesses, or why women aren’t speakers at tradeshows, or members of industry boards. Those articles, while helpful in identifying the problems that women face, don’t always follow through with suggestions for dissolving those barriers or inspiring more women to take on visible roles. These issues, like lack of recognition as legitimate business people, the tendency to want to deal with a man if one is available, a lack of confidence, and a fear of failure, are all issues that can be dealt with if everyone involved is willing to take the time and make the effort necessary. All it takes is some adjustment of thinking and some adjustment of practices.

One factor that impacts the visibility of women is the relatively small number of women who speak on panels and at tradeshows. There are a few ways to combat this problem. One is for the organizations that run the shows to make a commitment to recruit more women to speak. This might mean publicizing speaking opportunities in women centered groups on social media, or asking the current speakers or vendors if there are any females they might recommend, and then pursuing the recommendations given. Another factor is that women can be reluctant to speak, either because of a fear of public speaking, or worry about their appearance, or ability to hold an audience. To combat that, more experienced speakers, male or female, could mentor fledgling speakers and help them become more confident. People who have podcasts or online shows could also offer fledgling speakers interview opportunities, allowing the new speakers to get comfortable speaking extemporaneously and on camera. If more organizations were willing to actively recruit women, and more women were mentored and trained in how to be comfortable speaking and educating, we would soon see rosters that looked more balanced.

Another issue that often faces women who own businesses is the cultural disposition toward dealing with a man if one is available. This can mean that a female business owner who is traveling with a husband or male employee can be discounted or ignored in favor of the male who is accompanying her.

Again, this problem requires a two-part solution. The first is on the part of the companies that are manning the booths and employing the salespeople. Recognize this cultural predisposition does exist and some salespeople may not even be aware of it. Have a meeting and discuss the issue and make all salespeople aware not to assume. The other half of the responsibility for combating this issue lies with the women who encounter the problem. Speak up. Let the salespeople know you are the business owner and the decision maker. Women can also vote with their dollars and decline to work with companies or salespeople who overlook them. Losing a few sales can be a great teacher and motivator.

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For those who run companies, making women more visible may take a commitment to promoting and recognizing them in your organization. Earmark women who perform well for extra training or grooming for promotion or management. Establish mentorship programs where more experienced women who are higher on the career ladder can help new female employees learn the skills they need to be promoted. Make sure female employees are getting and taking credit for the work they do. Women have a tendency to say “we” or speak of a team when talking about what’s been accomplished. Make sure women who have done exemplary work are getting recognized and spotlighted. It is also helpful to make sure that women are getting an equal chance at high-value, visible work and leadership roles. In teams, women may be assigned to lesser value, less visible positions by default.

Another issue that keeps women from being visible in the business world can be cultural expectations of a women’s role in family life. As much as we like to think caring for a family and a home is a 50/50 partnership, the reality is that a lot of the burden still resides with the women of the family. Like much of what has been discussed, this issue requires a readjustment of thinking and behavior, which requires changing the cultural norms that say that women are solely responsible for picking up children from school if they’re sick, handling meal prep and groceries, and keeping the house clean. Chores should be apportioned based on who has time to do them, not based on gender. Women should request their spouses help more, (if they don’t already) or, if the spouse doesn’t have time, apportion some of their income to potentially cover things like house cleaning, grocery delivery, or a meal service. It isn’t likely that cultural norms that have been in place for centuries will change overnight, but if more women and men start structuring lives in which both partners’ work is valuable and both are equally responsible for the tasks involved with maintaining a home and a family, the needle will move.

Finally, on the issue of fear, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of speaking up, fear of confrontation, impostor syndrome, whatever it might be, there’s really only one solution. Sometimes the only way to deal with fear is to acknowledge it and then walk through it toward your goal. The first time speaking at a conference or going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting and saying you’re a business owner will be scary. The next time, however, will be easier. Part of the responsibility for making women more visible lies with the women themselves. If we’re not willing to stand up and put ourselves out there, we can’t complain when no one else is willing to put themselves out to help make us more visible.

We asked our male Brain Squad members: How are you being an ally to women in the industry?

  • Hiring women into all positions and promoting them from within. — Jon Sherman, Flavor Paper, Brooklyn, New York
  • Supporting Women in Print, promoting and hiring of qualified female employees to management positions, and encouraging and advising women business owners to help them succeed. — Brian Hite, Image Options, Foothill Ranch, California
  • I encourage all women to try to do wrap installs. I personally believe they are much better suited for install work over men. — Trey Matula, Picture This Wraps and Graphics, Mandeville, Louisiana
  • I have always thought women should be at or near the top of any organization. I believe women provide a unique perspective in many situations and their intelligence gets overlooked far too often. Support! Support! Support one another! — Drew Veach, CorpColor, Wyoming, Michigan
  • By not seeing gender, job performance is measured based on effort, talent, and merit – not by gender. — Wade Neff, Strategic Factory, Owings Mills, Maryland
  • My wife makes me a better me than I thought. Seventy percent of my clients are female. I know who wears the pants in my business. Females are way more loyal clientele then males. I will go out of my way to promote and collaborate on their projects. — Tommy Melendez, Master Graphics, The Bronx, New York
  • We are starting to look at representation within our organization as well as our suppliers. — Ryan Clark, Direct Edge Media, Anaheim, California
  • Making sure they’re an equal member of our team in all activities and projects we handle daily. — Jason Ahart, Olympus Group, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Totally treat them as equals and recognize their strengths over their male coworkers. — Malcom Gieske, IDWraps.com/Identity Group, Slatington, Pennsylvania
  • I have had the pleasure and honor of working with many talented individuals over the years – both male and female. I have always believed that appreciating a craftsperson for their abilities is paramount. Whether that was as a student myself, or as a teacher, I always felt it was important to help anyone under my tutelage to become the best they could be, and their gender never entered into the picture. — Jim Dittmer, JDA Creative Color, Gresham, Oregon
  • Cross-function training of female employees to handle, design, marketing, production, and installation. — Pete Brunner, Full Sail Graphics & Marketing, Huntington Beach, California
  • Treat everyone the same. — Michael Greenwald, NextPage, Kansas City, Missouri
  • I encourage both men and women and don’t discourage either. I like to teach and educate and so I try to take that on when the opportunity arises. — Stan Lucas, DCG One, Seattle, Washington
  • Encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone – installation in particular.— Shawn O’Neal, Conestoga DPI, Manheim, Pennsylvania
  • My wife and I are 50/50 partners in the business. We needed some coaching early on to define our roles in the business and allow the person in charge of their responsibilities to make the decisions and it has worked great for us. — David Kaiser, Digitype Design, Tualatin, Oregon

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Kristine Shreve is the founder and CEO of Kristine Shreve Consulting (kristineshreve.com), the director of marketing and outreach for Applique Getaway, and the creator and host of the Business + Women podcast. Shreve is also the founder of the Women in Garment Direction Group and leads the On My Way to the Getaway Group on Facebook.

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