Gender equity and diversity in the printing industry – and how one U.S. professor and one printer are leading the way

Dr. Harvey Levenson.

Gender equity and diversity in the printing industry has been the focus of some vigorous debate for quite some time. This mirrors the concern for social justice that’s become a societal issue, not only for gender equity but for racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and age equality as well. A new whitepaper by Harvey R. Levenson, who’s been involved in the printing industry since 1961, focuses on the case of gender equality in the printing industry – and how one company, Allen Press, has taken unprecedented action not only to ensure gender equality within its own company, but within its vendor community and industry associations. Levenson is a Ph. D. Professor Emeritus in Graphic Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo University on California’s central coast, and a respected industry expert in printing, publishing, digital imaging, intellectual property and communications.

Randy Radosevich.

The issue was first raised when a group of highly experienced and recognized U.S. printing industry professionals observed a male bias in appointing nominees to an industry honour society – the Benjamin Franklin Honor Society, and moved to have this corrected, though unsuccessfully. Randy Radosevich, the CEO of Allen Press in Lawrence, Kansas, got wind of this and made the further observation of a large gender imbalance in the appointments to Printing Industries of America (PIA) Board of Directors. After voicing a complaint that was largely ignored, Radosevich dropped Allen Press’s membership from PIA’s national organization and local affiliate representing the State of Kansas. He also sent a letter to each of Allen Press’s vendors requesting a signed testimony that they practice gender equity in salaries and hiring. And, if such a letter wasn’t received by a prescribed date, those vendors would be immediately dropped as an Allen Press supplier.

Since Allen Press’s public airing of this situation, there’s been an outpouring of responses from numerous individuals, men and women, applauding Radosevich, telling their own stories, and wanting to be heard. While one is included in Levenson’s new whitepaper, a review of the remainder will be part of a follow-up article, as responses are still coming in, he said. Interestingly, there was one objection by a woman suggesting that this is a “woman’s issue” and shouldn’t be led by a man. This position will also be covered in the follow-up article in a way that respects confidentiality. This comprehensive new whitepaper by Levenson provides the background and detail behind the matter, and concludes by recommending that a further study be conducted by an independent third party or organization.

Gender and diversity issues in the printing industry: Why did I know this was coming?

By Harvey R. Levenson, Ph. D.

Dr. Harvey R. Levenson, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus and former Department Head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. His research and teaching specialties include communication, intellectual property, media, printing and technology. He’s often called upon as an Expert Witness in these areas. He can be reached at hlevenso@calpoly.edu.

Introduction. The matter of gender equity and diversity in the printing industry has been the focus of some vigorous debate for quite some time. However, it has re-emerged in earnest most recently when an industry association, the Benjamin Franklin Honor Society (BFHS) denied membership to a list of women candidates nominated for their contributions to industry growth and professional development, yet allegedly equally qualified men were accepted into the Society. There resulted an outpouring of objections by a number of members calling for a change in the BFHS bylaws to allow for better balance of membership, not only among men and women, but among other underrepresented industry professionals deserving of membership, thereby creating an organization sensitive to diversity. The recommended bylaw changes were accepted. However, then replaced by the Society officers with “Rules of Operations,” thus, eliminating the installation of the recommended nominees. These new rules requires that any new amendment must be submitted to a committee of past-presidents and approved, before they can be voted on by the membership at large.

Caution has been expressed to the BFHS by well-respected industry advocate, and BFHS honoree, Raymond J. Prince, that not providing equal opportunities and recognition of deserving women and other underrepresented groups could spell the doom of the BFHS because it was losing more members by attrition (mostly by passing away) than it was bringing in, and its survival and growth depended on growing, not reducing, membership. I hasten to note that this caution extends to other printing industry associations as well.

Some personal background. I’ve been in the printing industry since 1961. I’ve observed and have been part of the industry’s transition from letterpress to offset, hot metal to photocomposition to computer typesetting, analog to digital, and much more. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been observing and promoting opportunities for women into what was once a largely male-dominated industry. My involvement since 1961 has been in industry working in the fields of advertising and printing, research, and education. The last phase of my involvement, education, spanned from 1976 to 2013, though during those years I also remained well entrenched in industry in consulting, research, speaking, and writing. I’ve remained on top of nearly every trend and development in printing, graphic arts, graphic communication, management, technology, research, and education. In the latter, education, when I started out, there were hardly any women studying in these fields.

When I became Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly in 2013, the enrollment in our “printing” department (evolving from Print Engineering to Graphic Arts to Graphic Communication) was approximately 70 percent women. However, this did not happen overnight. This happened gradually, and it is safe to say that “printing” (Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department) had more than a 50 percent women for the better part of the last 20 years in a total annual enrollment that was always well above 300 students. This trend persists, and I’ve learned from my colleagues in just about every higher education “printing” program in the United States that the trend of women-dominance in academic programs in what was traditionally a male-dominated discipline is widespread. I expect that the same is true in Canada and, perhaps, in Europe and Asia.

I hasten to note that this has nothing to do with any evolution from “heavy metal” technology to “softer” technology. The technology courses we teach at Cal Poly include prepress, press, and post press and all of the technology involved in these areas, including running platemaking equipment, running sheet-fed and web printing presses across all processes, analogue and digital, and running binding and finishing equipment such as cutters, folders, stitching equipment, and so on. At Cal Poly, the teaching pedagogy is called “learn by doing,” meaning that to complete this program every student, men and women, must master these technologies with an in-depth understanding of how the technology works and how it is controlled, not only in theory but in practical applications as well.

In fact, Cal Poly has an experiential printing company called University Graphics Systems (UGS) where students, as part of their education, must run a real printing company producing real jobs for university departments and sometimes for entities outside of the University. The students, under a faculty advisor, must do everything from marketing, sales, estimating, production management, quality control, and producing these jobs on real equipment representing the technology being used in industry. There are 11 managers, and approximately 80 students are involved each term. The vast majority of UGS “employees” are women as are the vast majority of UGS managers. Other academic programs preparing men and women for our industry provide similar types of hands-on education and, again, are mostly populated by women. I’ve never observed any hesitancy on the part of women to become educated and expert in what used to be a male-dominated discipline. I hear this time and time again from colleagues at other similar programs of higher education.

The promise of a rewarding career. Why is this? It’s because of the promise of a rewarding career in a field, “printing,” that is a societal institution for serving the information needs of the world and in producing and reproducing knowledge—very honorable undertakings. However, today we live in a nation, among others, where the present generation entering the business world, often called “millennials,” were brought up to expect equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women, as well as for people of all backgrounds, not only gender, but racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, and so on, as well.

The reality. However, I’ve observed that something happens once women graduate and enter the printing industry. Initial positions are plentiful; the graduates, men and women get jobs and often multiple offers. However, after a bit of time when promotions and salary increases seem like logical next steps in professional growth, we start hearing about inequities in equal opportunities, in promotions, in appointments to boards, and in salaries. We also hear stories about non-profit industry associations that are supposed to represent and support all members of our industry – companies and employees – but understate the value of women on their committees and boards. But we do get mixed messages. In all fairness, there are women who have experienced successful careers in the printing industry and board appointments, and report little or none of what I’ve written. However, reports that have been received indicate that most women who have entered the industry experienced some or all of what I’ve noted, i.e., “the glass ceiling.”

Enter a “folk hero” – Randy Radosevich. Randy Radosevich, CEO of Allen Press in Lawrence, Kansas got wind of the gender equity and diversity debate that was being played out in the industry press. Subsequently, Randy sent a letter to the printing industry online press directed to the Printing Industries of America (PIA) Board Directors that became widely circulated. It read:

Open Letter to the Printing Industries of America Board of Directors from Allen Press.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dear PIA Board of Directors:

As a long-time PIA member and supporter, we feel we have a responsibility to speak up when our industry’s flagship organization is failing its membership. We’ll get right to the point: our national board doesn’t show the gender diversity we expect to see– namely, women business owners and printing leaders are woefully underrepresented. Of the 28 PIA board members, only two are women.

Why is this?

When a young woman researching careers visits the PIA Board of Directors web page, what is she supposed to think? Does she see a successful future in printing? We are sending the wrong message to the upcoming generation of print leaders by not having a truer representation of the men AND women who work to improve our craft every day. Is it that you don’t welcome women or don’t want them involved in these leadership roles? Gender diversity leads to greater innovation and advancement. Better problem-solving and ideation. Clearer perspective and vision. Not giving women a voice is a detriment to our industry. Most importantly, what are you going to do to correct the problem?

The lack of women business owners and leaders on the PIA Board is an embarrassment to all of us who are PIA members. We ask all printing industry leaders who read this letter to ask themselves what they can do to help correct this incredibly unjust situation. Staying silent and doing nothing is participating in the problem. Please let PIA President and CEO Michael Makin know how you feel. Call him at (412) 259-1777 or email him at mmakin@printing.org.

Here at Allen Press, we want to continue to be part of the PIA community. However, our commitment to social impact means we can no longer fund or lend our support to an organization that is becoming more and more irrelevant by its own lack of gender diversity.

Expecting action,

Randy Radosevich, CEO Allen Press

An example of the matter through an anecdote. Since Randy’s letter, there have been numerous responses, most supporting Randy’s view, but some not. Perhaps the issue is best understood via an anecdote received by a leading industry publication, Printing Impressions. It follows. I’ve removed the sender’s name out of respect for confidentiality.

Good day

I read with interest your Editor’s Notebook article in September’s issue of PI as well as Randy Radosevich’s open letter to PIA and just want to say thank you (and to Randy Radosevich as well if you’d like to pass it along). As a woman who has been in the print industry for many years, I have definitely run across the “good ol’ boys” network and lack of mentoring and/or opportunities. (I was even told once years ago to go be a print buyer because women had no place selling prepress/print.)

I have been seeking a sales position in the industry on and off for a few years now and have run into many roadblocks – the reasons which are not entirely clear when men with a very similar background to mine have been hired. I recently have been seeking a position selling capital equipment (i.e. presses, finishing equipment, etc.) or consumables and have been very disheartened by the lack of responses to my applications – hardly even a call back for an initial conversation. (Maybe my resume stinks but I have been told it doesn’t).

Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or possibly because some younger hiring managers or HR people don’t know the technical aspects and knowledge that was once, and still is in part, required to prepare files (or film back in the day – i.e. color separations/engraving) and print since everything is now done “with a press of a button” on a computer or digitally. I spent 18 years selling prepress and print services for national companies with multiple divisions (e.g. Vertis Communications, WACE USA) which required an in-depth knowledge of color, prepress (yes, rubylith and film, dot etching and chokes, fatties, trapping, etc.), workflow, and most print applications (offset, digital, large-format, flexo, roto, screen, etc.) out there as well as most finishing applications in order to achieve a good-quality final product.

It’s sad because the graphic arts/print industry is a great industry with great people and should be a viable career option for younger people – and women. In any event, thank you again for writing about this issue as it was, and obviously continues to be, prevalent within the industry. I know other women, like myself, who have just given up because of the lack of opportunities for and/or resistance to hiring women.

Kind regards

Making a long story short. The concern expressed by Randy and Allen Press to Printing Industries of America, and to a few other organizations, went largely ignored. The concerns expressed to the BFHS were largely rejected. Bottom line: Allen Press withdrew its membership from Printing Industries of America, national and the local PIA affiliate representing Kansas. This is at a time when printing industry associations are experiencing decline and are clamoring for members. Printing industries associations, take heed to this story! Your survival may depend on it! Further, Allen Press is now serving as an advocate for gender equity and diversity within the entirety of the printing industry and supply chain, and issued the following October 19, 2018 letter to its vendors.

Dear (first name)

Allen Press is fully committed to making the world a better place. That means acting now to create change as described in our Social Impact statement, including industry-leading activism for closing the gender gaps in pay and leadership positions. We have permanently closed the gap at Allen Press in 2018 and now it’s your turn.

Our next step is to identify current vendors and suppliers who refuse to pay women equally and cease doing business with them. Additionally, we will begin requiring this commitment form upfront from those seeking to sell their products and services to Allen Press. We do not consider this an unwarranted request. As everyone agrees, it is wholly unacceptable to pay women less than men, in the same or similar positions.

As of January 1, 2019, we will begin phasing out vendors and suppliers who have not closed the gender pay gap in their own organizations. Please read carefully and have an officer sign the attached form indicating that your organization has closed its gender pay gap. You are welcome to call or email Maria Preston-Cargill, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing with any questions at maria@allenpress.com or (785)865-9265.

Please return the attached letter of commitment by December 15, 2018. To read our full Social Impact statement, please visit www.allenpress.com.

In partnership,

Randy Radosevich, CEO

What’s the real story? I’ve now presented two anecdotes representing not hypotheticals, but real stories. One is from the writer whose name I left off for confidentiality purposes. The other is the Allen Press story.

Ladies and gentlemen of the printing industry, we have a problem. Undoubtedly, there’ll be those that disagree with my assessment, men and women, but mostly men. Many are “old guard” representing the “graying of the industry.” Many have led companies and deny any insensitivity to gender inequality or lack of diversity in their companies. And, some may be correct, but can speak only about their companies not all companies in the printing industry. Hence, I raise the proposition that our industry needs data to answer the question, “What’s the real story?” I propose that such a study be conducted by an independent body, perhaps one of the printing industry media, to do an impartial investigative reporting on gender equity and diversity in the printing, graphic arts, graphic communication or related industries, including printers and vendors. This debate is not isolated to the printing industry. It is a national debate and is taking place in many industries. Through progressive leadership and action, such as that taken by Randy Radosevich of Allen Press, the printing industry stands to become a role model of reform – gender equity and diversity – for other industries to follow.

(GAM Editor’s Note: I’d like to personally thank Professor Levenson for sharing this timely and important whitepaper, as well as Randy Radosevich for “walking the walk” in putting what’s morally right ahead of profits. A couple of years ago I attended an awards ceremony at Ryerson University’s School of Graphic Communications Management here in downtown Toronto. While the trade media fully covered the event, as always, I chose to also point out the story that wasn’t reported – that 70% to 80% of these award winners, graduates to be, and future printing industry workers, were women. Think about that. That’s a huge number. So my advice, with respect, is this: Any commercial printer would look rather inept if they were using old equipment and outdated work processes in their shop. It would be equally precarious to use old-fashioned thinking when it comes to hiring practices as well. My friends, the ranks in our graying profession are changing quickly. Get used to it, or some day, you can explain to a female millennial customer or potential young client why you don’t employ women. I compare it to the sustainability movement. Decades ago, not many in our industry seemed to care about their carbon footprint. Now most print professionals do – as well as your current and your potential future customers. So get with it folks! Your competitors definitely will. Good luck).

– Tony Curcio, Editor, Graphic Arts Magazine

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.