Ryerson University’s School of Graphic Communications Management (GCM) held its annual awards night last month in Toronto. Over $50,000 in total scholarships was awarded to the students you see here – the vast majority of whom were women. The same was true at last year’s event. This signals a trend in our industry with more and more highly skilled women set to enter the workforce.

Women in print

Is the dynamic shifting for women in this industry?

In mid-June, toward the end of the last session of a hectic day at a conference in Burnaby, British Columbia, a photographer positioned four of Canada’s inkjet leaders in a row and snapped a picture. It’s that picture of four gentlemen in blue suits sitting in a row that sparked the interest for this article. Where were the women? It’s not until one delves behind the image that one truly begins to understand the institutional and diversity shifts that have, that are, and that will continue to shape the culture and direction of the print and graphic arts industry.

Heartfelt thanks go out to Edward Robeznieks, President of Sales, Ricoh Canada; Ray Fagan, Sheetfed Products Manager, Heidelberg Canada; Marg Macleod, Associate Manager, Digital Imaging Association; and Deanna Sinclair of Cambridge Labels for speaking candidly about the story behind the photo of four men in blue suits sitting in a row.

Ray Fagan points out, “If you had snapped a picture of the earlier presentation you would have a different mosaic of people. What you are seeing [in that picture] is a group of people that have been in the industry since the beginning. When it was, in fairness, a more roll-up-your sleeves, get-your-hands-dirty type of mechanical industry. That industry didn’t attract a lot of women.”

Even today, few people want to work in the plants and no one wants to work the big equipment. Prepress, because of its computers and graphic design aspects, attracts more applicants. Bindery and folding departments just don’t interest or retain employees. “It is hard to attract anybody young, men or women, to the manufacturing aspect of the industry.” In Germany, Heidelberg has female print operators in its demo rooms and is very proactive in making sure there are female technicians and female press operators. Institutionally there was a whole generation of attrition in the print industry as a result of advancing technology.

Today’s new entrants don’t need to be as hands-on or mechanically minded. You have to understand data, databases and workflows. That’s more attractive to women and others. Unless women or men actively seek to get into a plant and learn how to feed a press, certain jobs will be restricted. But, Fagan notes, “Heidelberg does actively seek to bring women into the printing world. There is just not a lot of interest of people wanting to be in that world. That is the biggest challenge.”

Yet, from Fagan’s vantage point, “The graphic arts industry is an exciting industry with interesting opportunities, albeit for a few positions you have to apply yourself.” There are opportunities in printing plants and there are young companies that are on the rise. New employee entrants must hone their digital skills and keep their options open while looking for opportunities.

Edward Robeznieks acknowledges, “The photo of four men in blue suits was not a snapshot of ‘men rule and there are no women’.” The companies could have put women on that stage too. In the past print was very male dominated. That situation has changed because of how our business operates today. “The things we do, the tools and the software we provide make us [Ricoh] a very different organization than we were ten years ago. If I had been away, I could have put a woman in that chair.”

Ricoh has a number of senior women in different roles within its organization who are influential in the printing industry. More importantly, “More and more women are coming back to organizations like Ricoh because of the fact the organization is not what it was ten or fifteen years ago.” The institutional structure has changed from mechanical to digital.

The print industry business is more complex and interesting and that’s creating jobs and bringing people like women into the industry fold. Robeznieks sees that today’s printing industry attracts people who are looking for a Google-like work environment. Ricoh offers an enriching lucrative career that is “not like the old days where it was offset printing or copier activities. It is very different today because of all the software and the tools that have been wrapped around it.”

A new female recruit at Ricoh states, “I can’t wait to work. It’s not because of the hardware component and how great the quality of the output is. I want to work with the clients and to be creative with the devices that define printing.”

Ricoh’s workforce is about 30% women and 70% men. Robeznieks thinks a sixty-forty split would be pretty good for a mature industry steeped in what was a male dominated culture with inflexible institutional structures.

The bottom line for Ricoh is acquiring the best talent for its customer base. “The print industry is becoming more and more about how to help a client manage print and print can be anything. This philosophy will continue to make graphic communication an extremely interesting place to be in and that will be the attractor for everyone.”

Ryerson University’s School of Graphic Communications Management (GCM) held its annual awards night last month in Toronto. Over $50,000 in total scholarships was awarded to the students you see here – the vast majority of whom were women. The same was true at last year’s event. This signals a trend in our industry with more and more highly skilled women set to enter the workforce.
Ryerson University’s School of Graphic Communications Management (GCM) held its annual awards night last month in Toronto. Over $50,000 in total scholarships was awarded to the students you see here – the vast majority of whom were women. The same was true at last year’s event. This signals a trend in our industry with more and more highly skilled women set to enter the workforce.

Deanna Sinclair of Cambridge Labels says, “I was not particularly shocked by the picture. Quite often you do tend to see a lot of males on panels. I got immune to it.”  Sinclair believes the industry is evolving. Cambridge Labels services a lot of female customers who own their own shops. Beside the many female corporate executives in the print industry the entrepreneurial independent vendors and printers are not captured in that picture. Behind that row of four men in blue suits is a cadre of women and people of diversity pushing and pulling print and graphic communication.

About a year ago Sinclair attended a Label Expo gathering in Chicago where the six panelists were all female. Curious, she contacted the panel organizer and learned the panel design was deliberate. “The organizer personally found females are not asked as much or known so she purposely designed the panel to be all females.”

A lot of powerful women are making their mark in the entrepreneurial aspects of print. They are successfully running and owning shops and moving into leadership positions. And for Sinclair, “that’s really inspiring.” 

Sinclair believes that no particular sex is a better manager, leader, or businessperson than the other. “The biggest challenge [for new print industry entrants] is gaining the technical knowledge that is required to successfully run a printing business.”

Marg Macleod, Associate Manager Digital Imaging Association clarifies the focus of the Digital Imaging Association as being on technical education and not on the concept of isolating women or for that matter anyone else in print. “If you work hard and do a good job, then it doesn’t’ matter whether you are pink or purple or male or female or whatever ethnicity. It’s your ability to do a job that counts.”  Barriers are self-made. The industry in general does not do anything to actively set up barriers.

And so we circle back to where we started with four men in blue suits sitting in a row. Fagan, Robeznieks , Sinclair and Macleod agree that the industry has evolved and with the retirement of a dynasty of print titans the playing field will become wide open for women.

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