The chemical industry is a male-dominated space, but women are making inroads in it. Our guests created Women In Chemicals, a non-profit designed to help women create and identify opportunities in the industry. Victoria Meyer discusses things with Amelia Greene, Global Product Manager at Wego Chemical Group, and Kylie Wittl, Strategic Sourcing at 3M. They talk about their goals in founding Women in Chemicals and give their insights on the role of women in the industry. Tune in and hear more on how these two women are empowering their peers in the chemical industry.
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Women In Chemicals: Empowering Women In The Chemical Industry With Kylie Wittl And Amelia Greene
I am speaking with the Founders of Women in Chemicals. We've got Amelia Greene, who is a Global Product Manager at Wego Chemical and Kylie Wittl, who is in Supply Chain at 3M. These ladies are here to share a bit about the Women in Chemical story, other things related to chemicals and their new business and venture that they have started. Ladies, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having us.
First of all, what's the origin story of Women in Chemicals and how it came about?
Women in Chemicals is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to create and identify opportunities to empower women in the chemical industry. It came about based on a need that Kylie and I both felt we needed for a few different reasons. I spent most of my career as the only female on my team in sales. Most of the customers that I went and called on were older men. I started feeling like the industry wasn't for me because I didn't see anybody like myself. I didn't see other women, either at trade shows or in leadership in the organizations that I wanted to work at or looked up to in my own organization and as peers. I started calling on Kylie at 3M.
3M had been one of my key accounts at the time and Kylie was my new point of contact. Pretty quickly, we established a great working relationship. We communicated and collaborated well when we negotiated. It felt like a true negotiation. I felt like our supplier-customer relationship was a partnership. Kylie and I developed a friendship out of that as well and we started having conversations about how a lot of her folks that called on her how most of my customers were mainly men. We started to think about how we could connect with more women, women and how we thought that there would be so much power in that.
We did a little bit of brainstorming. As of February 1st, 2021, we launched our first initiative, which was our virtual mixer pairing. That is a random pairing of everybody that ops-in within our community. Now, we have about 110 members. You get randomly paired with somebody, you get their contact information and it's up to them to set up a 30-minute either phone call, video chat or in-person meeting even if they are in the same location to get to know each other. That's how we started and it has been a whirlwind since.
What impact do you see happening? You've got some pairings. You have had weekly interviews that you are doing in publishing. Where are you guys seeing that impact and even the feedback about Women in Chemicals?
Amelia has some good points in success stories to share but I want to jump in here and talk about overall the feeling of connection that has been gained from my perspective and in conversations in our women of the week interviews and the feedback that we continue to get from our members about having this as an outlet in the industry. It has been so beneficial in so many ways.
We have small wins that are worth celebrating every step of the way here. For example, small wins that we experience in our one-on-one connection virtual mixer pairings. Those happen every other week and we've got folks that are not only building relationships and friendships with each other but also opening up the door for new business opportunities. If there's a need in the marketplace and whomever you are connecting with might be able to fill that need, it's worth talking about in your conversations. It comes up organically, it creates bond and networking connections through those conversations. Amelia has some good success stories I want her to share as well.
As Kylie said, the connection piece has been huge. When I was thinking about the pointed impact we are making, it broke down into three major categories. There's fiscal impact, professional development impact and then emotional impact in emotional security for our community. For the fiscal impact, it was funny and weird. One of my colleagues was connected to one of Kylie's colleagues through our Women in Chemicals community. Kylie and I didn't even know that they were discussing business or deliberating until after they had closed a seven-figure deal and my colleague mentioned it to me.
If there's a need in the marketplace and whomever you're connecting with might be able to fill that need, it's worth talking about.
I mentioned it to Kylie and we both were like, “When did this happen?” It was great. Those types of business opportunities, we only know about those because they are within our organization and we have heard about a couple of others. I can't imagine how many of those types of situations are happening within our community just because of these conversations where you find out someone might be doing something that you need.
Professional development impact, we have had a member reach out to us and tell us that she took a leap and took a promotion. She found that courage through one of the conversations she had with her virtual mixer pairing. That was wonderful to hear. Emotionally, I feel it myself. We are going through one of the biggest supply chains issues our industry has ever seen. Hearing other people's stories, it gives you a sense of solace that you are not alone in this. These mixers can be draining day after day and our Woman of the Week interviews and these new connections revitalize me. I think Kylie would say the same thing.
Do you guys find that women network differently than men? Historically, I have been in the chemical industry a long time and I resonate with some of the things that you have mentioned. Being the only woman in the room or when you are doing business, you are often facing male counterparts when you are negotiating and selling. A lot of times, we think about networking and business getting done on the golf course, which implies that you have already got a certain relationship with the person to be able to go golfing with them and have that comfort level. From what you guys are seeing and the stories that you are hearing, do you find that women are networking differently and, therefore, need that opportunity to connect differently?
I think so. There's not one that's better than the other by any means but that what I have learned in these connections and this community myself is we need, for lack of a better term, more intimacy and the ability to feel comfortable and that we can approach each other. We have created a space that allows for that. I also don't want to discount the fact that in this industry, it is far and few in between, and that there is a woman with me that is standing her ground, and holding those conversations and connections with the males in the room as well.
One of the things I have seen is there's a bit of a bifurcation in the industry. I spent a big part of my career at Shell, a lot of the major chemical companies like Shell were quite good at promoting women and having a lot of women in commercial and senior roles. Maybe not so much the ultimate senior roles but the quite senior roles. Whereas some of the smaller companies, the privately held independent ones haven't made as much progress. Do you see the same thing and what's your response to that?
I have spent my entire career in the distribution space, which tends to be more of the smaller privately held companies. I see this at all the companies I have worked at. I have never had a female in the executive suite. I worked at four companies. For the most part, I'm one of the only women or the only woman in sales or a client-facing role. I find when I call in most Fortune 500 companies, it is an equal split of men and women. In some of the higher senior procurement roles, it typically is more men but I do see that changing. For smaller companies still, there is a big disparity. One of the biggest things that we can do is keep promoting visibility and keep elevating voices.
That is the mission of our Woman of the Week Podcast, which is to elevate a voice of a woman within our community. Aside from that, we need to be pushing our leadership for more diversity in our organizations. This is something I talked to my leadership about all the time. I'm like, “We need a woman when you guys are making these decisions.” Continuing to ensure the success of the women within our organizations and externally. I'm a huge proponent of mentorship. I have had some great mentors and I love mentoring the women coming up behind me that's something as women. We have to make a pointed effort to do if we want to continue to see more women in this space.
Kylie, you are at 3M. I think of 3M less like a chemical company, more of a consumer product, my love of Post-its but I know it's a pretty diversified company and it's also a sophisticated company. 3M has got four women on its board of directors. My outside perspective is that it's more balanced in terms of men and women in the workplace but do you still see a gap and where do you see that gap?
High level, you make good points and I'm in alignment with your perception. As an employee sitting in the organization, I do perceive a lot of opportunities for women. I also do visibly see and I'm aware of women in leadership roles every single day and I'm inspired and motivated by them every single day. It's a great space to be and a great organization that does put not only women but diversity top of the line in their workforce and in the communities that they work in. There is always work to be done in a dynamic and ever-changing environment that we are working under but there are great things.
An example of this is we’ve got our community called Women's Leadership Forum within 3M. It's a global network of women and all of the areas that we have employees that connect, learn from each other, have panel discussions and have intimate, more uncomfortable conversations based on what's going on around us and in our workplaces. Included in there is a group of what we call our Men as Advocates as well. I think that it's so important to pull in other folks, not only women but other people that can be our advocates and to help us make progressive change where it needs to happen. All good things happening there.
That's where I think a group like Women in Chemicals fills some of those gaps that exist in other companies that don't have the wherewithal the actual size of several employees to create those employee organizations to make that happen. Kudos to you for that. Do you guys have role models? I'm interested. Do you have women that you work with that you can look up and aspire to and use as role models, whether from a professional perspective or how they are balancing professional and personal? I have always valued that and I have been fortunate to have it in my career but have you guys seen that for yourselves?
We need to be pushing our leadership for more diversity in our organizations.
For me, one of my biggest role models has been a colleague that I had from my very first job in the chemical industry. Her name is Kristen DePersia. She now works at Charkit, which is an LBB specialties company. She was always so confident. She knew her worth, killed it with customers, stood out for what she believed in, fought on behalf of her customers, did the job well and never let anybody tell her that she couldn't do something. I have always admired that. I wanted to be her and because she's a couple of years older than me, I've got to see her evolve. She's now a mom and she still manages a massive portfolio, growing her business every year and killing it. She has been a role model for me of someone who can have a very successful professional and personal life.
On one of our Women of the Week, the woman we are interviewing, Chelsea Burlan from WR Grace mentioned that she finds inspiration from Everyday Women. Women that she is surrounded by either at work, at home or wherever. I found that so interesting and valid because there are women all around me that inspire me. For example, Kylie has excellent public speaking skills and I aspire to be more like her every day. My support person, Kim, at my last job that I had, had this amazing capacity to handle so much. She was organized and professional under pressure and stress, and I was inspired by that. There are women everywhere that we can pull inspiration from.
From your perspective, you are both working in and adjacent to the chemical industry but what needs to change to make it more attractive or supportive for women in the workplace?
We have talked about this pretty regularly in our Women of the Week interviews and our panel discussions as well. A lot of the feedback and the sentiment is that this is something that we consider systemic. It's bigger than all of us but it takes us all. It starts from very early stages. We talk about how do we create awareness and visibility even in grade school, colleges and universities. We create visibility for women that are interested in the STEM field but don't necessarily know what career path could fit them outside of what might be stereotypically a lab-based or a technical-based role. This community, in general, has even made me aware with every interview we have of all of the opportunities and different roles, and responsibilities that you could have in this industry.
It's interesting because I have all my daughters, four girls. There has been a lot of media promotion over the, “You can do it.” We know we can do it but getting to more granularity about what those rules and opportunities are is hard. Frankly, it's hard for guys as well. It's a chemical industry issue in terms of what the opportunities are and that you don't have to be the most brilliant scientist. You could be a logistics person.
You could be doing great things in the chemical industry as a truck driver because we need those desperately, especially at the moment. I think awareness overall is that it's an opportunity that somehow we need to crack and keep developing. What about talent in general? Both of you are in business school, which is awesome. Are your classmates interested in the chemical industry? Do they look at you like, “We don't have any understanding of your world? This isn’t an area of interest to them." What do you see?
I am on a co-board of 77 and there are only two of us in the chemical industry. With the industry being such a significant portion of US GDP, we think that there would be more. One of the biggest things is that, as Millennials, we want to take our values and our ethics to work with us. The chemical industry is a little bit behind the times in terms of corporate responsibility, whether that be sustainability, digitization, diversity and inclusion initiatives. We are reactive. We weren't proactive. That makes us seem a little bit more old power and not quite as sexy as tech or some of these other industries that are getting a lot bigger talent.
Do you see the same thing, Kylie?
Amelia has a little different program from the school. Each course that I take has a different group of students. I haven't had the opportunity to dig into their specific industries and the demographic there. In a lot of the conversations or the discussions that I have with my colleagues in each of my classes, when we are asked to apply our everyday experiences to what we are learning, I will say that there is a gap.
Me describing my everyday experiences in this industry, being able to look through the responses, learn from other people and seeing that there are not a lot of other similar experiences in those courses. It goes back to, we want to make sure that there is visibility thereof folks wanting to join in the industry that can approach business school or other higher education initiatives and bring that experience in. It's so valuable but I don't think there's enough of it yet.
Amelia, you touched on some of these key trends that we are seeing in the industry. Digitization, sustainability and this shifting supply-demand trends. Is there an opportunity for Women in Chemicals to influence it? Do you guys see that this is a path that you can get some focused support in?
We are seeing corporate responsibility start to take center stage in our industry. It's become a big initiative for many companies, especially these Fortune 500 companies like 3M, LyondellBasell and some of the other bigger players in our industry. There is an opportunity for Women in Chemicals to influence that. The point of our virtual networking group is to meet with people in the industry that you otherwise may not have met and to share expertise, information and collaboration. Within our community already, we have members championing each of these initiatives. One of our Fortune 500 organizations is championing a sustainability initiative.
Our first corporate sponsor, BluePallet, is building a market network platform for the industry so moving towards digitization. The majority of our members work in the supply chain. Most of the conversations we are having are about the supply and demand trends, supply chain gaps, all those pressures that we are all under. Moving forward, we are hoping to address some of these bigger issues with our community at large in some of our live panel discussions, webinars, tap on the expertise that we have within our community and as our community continues to grow.
As millennials, we want to take our values and our ethics to work with us.
Maybe you have touched on a little bit. You have moved quickly since this was an idea that's coming to fruition. What's next for Women in Chemicals?
From my perspective, I couldn't be more excited to meet these women in real life. Most safely at the right time, I could not be more excited to do something in person.
In addition to that, we are trying to build out some more resources for our community, whether that be mentorship programs like a more formal offering to match people. We want to start doing outreach into the academic world to make the industry more visible. I, myself, was a Chemistry major and I still feel like I fell into the chemical industry on accident. Just getting in front of women when they are in their high school years, early college years, college years and letting them know that there's a place for them in the commercial chemical market. The opportunities available to them are something that we were going to be focusing on in the future.
This has been wonderful. Where can people find out more about Women in Chemicals?
We are in the process of building our website. That will be WomenInChemicals.com. For now, they can find us on LinkedIn. We have a public business page, Women In Chemicals Incorporated. If they want more information, to sign up for our networking pairings or any of our other initiatives, they can email us at Info@WomenInChemicals.com.
Kylie and Amelia, thank you so much. I've enjoyed talking with you and I wish you much success.
Thank you for having us.
Women In Chemicals Incorporated – LinkedIn
Chelsea Burlan – Past Episode
About Kylie Wittl
Kylie Wittl is a Sourcing Category Manager for a diverse Chemicals Portfolio at 3M Company responsible for the management of supplier relationships in the US and Canada. In her role, Kylie has the ability to interact both with internal client functions as well as external supplier partners. The fast-paced dynamics of our global Supply Chains today have truly highlighted how essential it is to have visibility and proper management in order to truly maintain supply.
She currently sits on the Counsel of Supply Chain Management Professionals - Twin Cities Board as Marketing Chair, and is also a part of 3M’s Women’s Leadership Forum Career Development team. Most recently, Kylie has co-founded Women in Chemicals in early 2021, with the mission of creating and identifying opportunities to empower women in the Chemicals Industry.
About Amelia Greene
Amelia Greene is a Global Product Manager at Wego Chemical Group responsible for the global sales and supply chain of their Flame Retardant product line. Throughout her sales career, she has worked extensively in both client facing and product management roles in the Chemical Industry. She is a 2020 graduate of the National Association of Chemical Distributors' (NACD) Emerging Leader Program and currently serves as the EL Member on their Producer Affiliate Relations Committee.
Amelia is passionate about identifying and creating opportunities to empower women in business, leading her to found Women in Chemicals - a 501C3 Nonprofit with a mission to create and identify opportunities to empower women in the chemical industry - in early 2021.
She graduated from Binghamton University in 2014 with a BS in Chemistry and is currently a candidate for NYU Stern's EMBA Class of 2022.