Don’t Chase Boys, Pass ‘Em

At Sonderen Packaging we do our best to promote a culture of equality. One of our owners is a woman who authentically leads despite the male dominated field. We take affirmative action seriously and actively recruit women with mechanical aptitude into operator positions. Positions with skill and pressure, positions traditionally occupied by men. Currently we have 40 operator positions, six of which are filled with kick-ass women and we want more!

Shellie has been with Sonderen since 1995. She began as a tailor in our finishing department (a role, for many years, that was only filled by women). Shellie was driven to learn more and was not afraid of getting her hands dirty. She began assisting the operators in cleaning the “window machine”, a stand-alone machine that applies a clear cellophane window to a folding carton. Shellie asked to learn how to run the machine and was taught by the other operators. For the last 13 years, she has been the lead operator on the machine and has trained several others. Shellie was one of our first female operators at Sonderen Packaging. In addition to being proud of her accomplishments, Shellie also feels pride when she puts out a high-quality product and does not have any returns from the customer due to an unglued window. Her manager, Allen, spoke highly of Shellie’s contributions and capabilities, “Shellie’s strong work ethic and knowledge of our window machine paired with all of her years of experience in the Finishing Department has been an absolute blessing to me. Shellie is not afraid to dive into any project and she strives for perfection in everything she produces. Shellie is one of those operators that just makes a manager’s job easy. She can work independently as well as run a crew. All she needs is a schedule of what needs done and off she’s goes.”

Learning new skills, welcoming challenges, staying busy and active are all reasons that these women wanted to be operators and continue to enjoy their jobs. Diana has had five different jobs at Sonderen before landing in the cutting department. She was also the first female glue machine operator. Diana is a lead on the swing shift, has a work ethic second to none and it’s no surprise why. Before working at Sonderen, she managed a fresh vegetable processing plant with her dad, she was a truck driver, cashier, and a warehouse operations manager of a potato packing plant. 13 years ago, she finally found her “happy place” at Sonderen Packaging. Diana reminisces that “Dan, my manager, recognized my potential and asked me to join his team. I was fascinated by the cutters, and again I wanted to be the first female operator.” Diana led the way for Sara and Brandy to also become female operators in the cutting department 9 years later.

Dan also identified Brady’s potential after seeing her work ethic in the finishing department. Brandy was a feeder on the gluers and also used a small jack hammer to separate loads- This job is called a “stripper”. Ironically, the stripper position is traditionally filled by a male. She moved into pre make-ready in the cutting department 1 ½ years later which gave her the foundation and knowledge necessary to excel as a cutting operator. She was hesitant, but said that, “Dan was persistent in telling me that I could do it and because he believed in me, it gave me the confidence to give it a try.” Brandy has been a cutting operator for 3 ½ years now and enjoys the fact that every job and every machine is different-there is never a dull day.

Barbie is also a natural leader and go-getter to say the least. Barbie’s worst nightmare is to be bored. She keeps busy and is always looking for learning opportunities and ways to improve her job and department. She can operate the sheeters and now works in the printing department to ensure that all presses have the materials and tools they need to execute a job.  We love to utilize Barbie’s extensive background in Lean Manufacturing to organize and lead lean events to support a culture of continuous improvement. 

When given the opportunity to receive extensive training from the Bobst technicians for nearly a week in California, Sara jumped at the chance. She shared that she was in the process of looking for another job, but was grateful the company was willing to invest in her ongoing growth and development as an operator, so she stayed. Sara shared what she likes most about being an operator, “I enjoy working with my hands, trouble shooting, and pushing myself. To me operating is fun. I like the fact that there are always new things to learn and ways to improve, my competitive nature drives me in this way.”

When asked if there were any challenges to overcome because they were women, the answers were a mixed bag. Terra, a 2nd press “man” on our largest printing press said that it was her manager James who gave her the first opportunity to begin to learn the machine as a feeder. Terra expressed, “James had faith in my abilities and I am thankful for the training and support I have received.” Sara, Diana and Brandy, also have been supported by the males in their department who have encouraged their development as an operator. Sara shared that, “Mark is very receptive to questions and will answer all that he can. I feel he goes above and beyond as a trainer. He has vast knowledge in this craft and has no problem sharing information. I am impressed daily by his work ethic and concern for the company. He is someone to aspire to.  My manager is also amazing. Dan is respectful, helpful, and easy to talk to. I have always felt he has a real heart for his employee’s.” Dan is also very proud of the women operators on his team and shared these observations as to why they excel.  “They don’t have shy and timid personalities and that is one reason why they have caught on so quickly. Each one is respected and shows respect to their co-workers. I take pride in what they have accomplished and feel that they will just continue to step-up to the next challenge.”

Barbie, small in stature, but mighty in confidence and aptitude, was the 1st woman production supervisor in aerospace manufacturing at GKN in El Cajon, CA. She commented that she is “used to breaking glass ceilings” so when asked what advice she would give other women interested in entering a traditional male field of work, she offered “Put your earplugs in and ignore the looks and comments. Quiet the doubters by proving them wrong, and always smile!!” She truly lives these words; Barbie’s smile is contagious!

Sara leaves us with this advice for other women, “expect frustration at times, expect information overload in the beginning, and don’t be afraid to ask any questions. Be patient with yourself and others. As you continue to learn, your confidence will build and the jobs get easier. Have a humble and helpful attitude so others want to train you. Try not to be intimidated or too critical of yourself as you learn.”  And finally, “Don’t chase boys, pass ‘em!!”