Painting the Glass Ceiling

By Barb Anwari | August 9, 2005

Women in the coatings industry are serving in greater roles than ever before.


Women were breaking records and barriers a quarter-century ago in the paint and coatings industry. Ruth Johnson, manager of the coatings and colorimetry lab for Ciba-Geigy; Helene Johnson of Lenmar Lacquers; consultant Ruth Johnston-Feller; Napko Corp.'s Rita Harper, who served as president of the Houston Society for Paint Technology; Helen Skowronska of Sherwin-Williams-all were industry pioneers.

Today, women continue to serve an increasingly accepting industry in ever greater capacities. How do these women view gender issues and coatings careers? Coatings World asked several to share their stories on how they got their start and how they have been advancing in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Barbara Newell
Penofin Performance Coatings
Dr. Newell is CEO and chairman of the board of Penofin-Performance Coatings Inc., a Ukiah, CA-based, family-owned organization. Originally in the lumber industry, she moved into coatings through a company merger.

"Things are getting better for women, that's true, but we still have a long way to go. I do find that, sometimes, in dealing with all levels of buyers and sellers, even today women don't have an equal share. The discrimination is less obvious. The attitudes, however, are still patronizing. The way I perceive that now is: 'Well, that's their problem. I don't make it mine.'

"My best advice to other women would be 'Do not polarize!' You take control of a situation by taking stock of your own perception and responses. If you're not making strides, look at yourself. Ask yourself: 'How am I feeding into this? What am I not doing?' Take responsibility for the things you control.

"The people I most admire are teambuilders and individuals who are solution oriented. I have been really strong within my own company on hiring women. At one point, my head of manufacturing was female. My executive vice president is a woman. I want women to believe in themselves. If you lack confidence, look inside yourself and find it. Once you do that and you're ready to talk, give me a call."


"Right away, Mrs. President!"
CEO Barbara Newell, who speaks from experience, said, "Running a company is not that difficult, but rising to the top of a major corporation-that's difficult. I hope to see both in my lifetime: a woman leading a multinational coatings company and a female President of the U.S. We will see a female CEO of a major paint business just as soon as one really, really wants it enough to work for it. There must be a great deal of preparation."

That preparation, said Kelly-Moore's Iris Fazackerley, begins at home: "The overriding issues today are quality, customer service, the environment and the bottom line. Trying to pull all these together is not easy. These issues are the same whether you are man or woman. Given our track record in the industry, I would judge that ascension of a female CEO in a major paint company is probably about eight years away. And I further predict that will happen before a woman becomes president."

Sheryl Southwell
Specialty Polymers, Inc.
Ms. Southwell, vice president of Specialty Polymers, Inc. in Woodburn, OR, holds a degree in biochemistry. Before entering the family business, she worked in biochemistry and academia.

"I started from the bottom up-in the family basement. My father, Ray, started the company in 1969. I remember my mother's chagrin when he literally took the coffee pot, blender and pans for lab equipment. My attitude toward work and my impressions of the industry stem from that upbringing. I feel strongly that accomplishments depend a great deal on individual perception. Those who succeed take responsibility and think of themselves and others in a very positive way.

"I came on board in 1998. Having a research background in chemistry and biotechnology (I myself worked with robotics systems) develops a problem-solving and analytical approach to challenges, which colors everything you do. It's part of my management philosophy to give our people the chance to move along without someone micro-managing.

"Let me emphasize to women that they can do whatever they want. I would say to anyone who wants to succeed in this industry, put the time and energy into whatever you do. It takes effort. Nothing happens on its own. But if you keep pushing, keep learning, and persevere, you will succeed."

Iris Fazackerley
Kelly-Moore Paint Co.
A long-time Kelly-Moore Paint Co. employee, Ms. Fazackerley moved up through the ranks to the pivotal position of purchasing manager at the San Carlos, CA corporate complex.

"I got involved in the paint and coatings industry by accident, taking a job as a secretary to the president of a small paint company. In 1978, I came to Kelly-Moore, again as an executive secretary, working for the vice president of manufacturing. Negotiating contracts was a large part of his world and, little by little, I began to take charge of the smaller accounts, watching the pennies and building relationships.

"Today women are viewed more and more as equals in this industry, especially in the lab, although I would not call it even. Not yet. Giants of the industry, such as Rohm & Haas and Dupont, have had women in positions of importance for many years. They continue this practice, which is good for all of us.

"In 1996, we had a woman vice president here. She started in accounts receivable in 1964 and retired in 1998. It took 32 years, most of them were years when women just were not recognized, but she made it. I think it was very significant for women here at Kelly-Moore, and it also showed that Kelly-Moore is a leader in this field. We now have many women working as managers, chemists, secretaries. They all contribute to the success of the company and the company is a major factor in their success."

Gail Pollano
Ms. Pollano of Neoresins (a business unit of Avecia) is long-time leader within FSCT, the Coatings Industry Education Foundation, the Technical Advisory Committee and the New England Society. Her many achievements include the George Baugh Heckel Award. Ms. Pollano is scheduled to become FSCT president this month at ICE 2001.

"I got involved in this industry quite by accident. When I graduated from college, I applied in the late 1970s to Polyvinyl Chemical Industries both because it was a chemical/lab company and close to home. I have been here, through many name changes, since then. I can honestly say that I loved every minute.

"Women, as well as men, in manufacturing need more training in the functions of the other departments within an organization. Everyone should know how their job impacts other people both internally and their external customers. Everyone must understand that no matter what job they hold in an organization, from receptionist to CEO, they can make a difference and impact the future of their organization. In my company, our Senior VP and Senior Finance persons are both women.

"John Fitzwater, former general manager of BFGoodrich, was my role model and mentor. Today I see women like Dr. Rose Ryntz and others being mentioned. I believe in mentoring and still feel this is a good way to integrate new people into our industry. I do not think that competent women are viewed any different than competent men in our industry.

"The old boy's club did exist when I started, with its 'long martini lunches' and such, but those are a thing of the past for most. Bottom line is this: regardless of what sex you are, you need to strive to be good at what you do and you will be respected for your knowledge. Women may lag behind still, but it is far less than when I started, and it is only slightly. Being employed in the P&C industry is a noble profession. We need to highlight this. Women can play a critical role in its future."

Melinda Forbes
Kronos, Inc.
Ms. Forbes became the first female president of the Los Angeles Society for Coatings Technology in 1988, where she truly opened doors. Currently she's an LASCT member, and a member of several other professional groups, including the Society For Plastics Engineers.

"I graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a B.A. in Social Sciences, received my elementary teaching credential, and taught until 1980. Then I decided sales would be a good transition. You are on your own to sink or swim, similar to a classroom situation.

"Albert G. Silverton of Allo Colouring Company was willing to train, and I worked for that company for nine years, selling liquid in-plant dispersions to the paint and asphalt emulsion industry. In 1990 I joined Rheox, Inc., where I worked for eight years, until it was sold to Elementis. I worked there for two years, then joined Kronos, Inc. in 2000. I am currently a senior account manager at Kronos selling in the western U.S., and my ultimate goal is to become western regional manager.

"Anne Probizanski was a wonderful role model at E.T. Horn Company. She was one of only a handful of women in the industry years ago. Geneva Wells and Lita Olquin were also great models who worked their way up from the bottom. Geneva was at H.M. Royal and Lita Olquin headed up The John K. Bice Company. There are a lot of wonderful women in the industry now. I think the older generation of men in the industry still have difficulty with women but, for the most part, men are very, very accepting of us. I think women still need to constantly prove themselves, to men and to each other."

Rose Ryntz
Visteon Corporation
Dr. Ryntz is a recognized expert in the automotive industry in the area of coatings for plastics and adhesion. Among her many accomplishments, she holds 16 patents, lectures extensively and works in numerous professional organizations.

"I got involved in paint and coatings in my graduate days, when Dr. Panos Kordomenos, now of DuPont, introduced me to automotive coatings. My role model is Lynne Galligan, whom I met at Dow Corning. She is now the chief technical officer at Avery Dennison in California. Lynne demonstrated that women with scientific backgrounds-she has a Masters degree in analytical chemistry-could also demonstrate business savvy in leading a company toward technological excellence. She taught me to know when you have to do your best and to also know when enough is enough. She told me that in talking to varied audiences answer the questions they ask and only cover as much as they are mentally ready to follow. When you meet people of similar drive and talent, try to network in the ability to resolve issues with their help.

"I have always looked at this industry as "male-dominated" not due to lack of talent from the female perspective, but due to a shortage of women in science. There are already several women CEOs, CFOs and CTOs in related industries, so why not ours? We are getting there though, and we must continue to encourage the younger women-and men-in this industry to set goals and aspirations consistent with their talent and their personal gratification. Getting to the top takes a lot of hard work, but it takes a lot more work to stay there.

"Women should not look at themselves as the underdogs, because we aren't. We are multi-faceted, capable of keeping many balls in the air at the same time. The question becomes, do you have the capability to keep those balls in the air while running in the direction you think they should go and bringing along the rest of the crowd to watch you? That defines a leader: the ability to create a vision, share the vision and get the team to make the vision reality. Quickness to react, fortitude to sustain and willingness to be flexible are key aspects of our development process that will allow us to be the leaders of the future."

Sabine Schroeder
Ormecon Chemie GmbH
Ms. Schroeder is a product manager for German firm Ormecon Chemie GmbH & Co., a subsidiary of privately owned holding company Zipperling Kessler.

"Ormecon performs basic and applied research. I have a chemical background and began by working in basic R&D on conductive polymers, developing new coatings based on our metal organic additive. With our successful development work and my own efforts, I just moved up the ladder step by step. I encourage other young women to be equally ambitious. I do not believe in luck. I think it is all a matter of being courageous enough to take an offered opportunity and to work hard to reach a certain goal.

Women are becoming more and more accepted in the coatings industry. Still, I do see only a few in leading positions, especially in technical areas. Innovation is the great challenge of the future and, at the same time, a chance for women to make a difference. From what I see, European women are encouraged to enter technical fields, but are very often held back. Changing this basic structure is an evolutionary process that takes time."

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