The Women of Fres-co: How Fres-co and Its Women Team Members are Shaping Change within the Industry 

December 22, 2023 | By The Fres-co Team

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According to U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately 12.7 million people working in manufacturing, making it one of the nation’s largest industries. But while the number of women in manufacturing jobs has increased steadily over the last decade, there is still a significant gender gap in the industry. Although women make up about 47% of the American workforce, the percentage dwindles to 30% when accounting for women in manufacturing verticals, like packaging and processing. Additionally, it is reported that only one in four management positions are held by women

At Fres-co, we believe women play an integral role in contributing to and improving the manufacturing and packaging industry. Embracing diverse perspectives can help us better solve complex challenges. But in order for more women to enter into this space, the industry needs to embrace change in a new way. This means creating a more inclusive environment, prioritizing equal pay, and providing women with fair opportunities to advance so we can pave the way for more women leaders.

The Women of Fres-co System USA, Inc.

We’re proud to highlight the stories of the women in flexible packaging at Fres-co in this new series. This feature aims to showcase the myriad of opportunities available and journeys taken within the industry, and highlight the dedicated women on our team.

This edition highlights the following women leaders at Fres-co:

Meet the Women of Fres-co: Ileana Tovaglieri, Chief Executive Officer: As CEO, Ileana’s top priorities are to steer the overarching strategy of Fres-co, working to enable teams, provide direction and resources, and benchmark against competitors and others in the industry. Fidan Labbe, Business Director, Specialty: Fidan oversees the specialty market within Fres-co, which includes chemical, food/feed Ingredients, pet, dry foods, among other markets. She is the first woman promoted to this role. Sarah Pirelli, Extrusion Manager: Sarah works to support the Extrusion team in every aspect, communicating across departments, providing insights and tools, and overseeing the team operators on the production floor. Caroline Majewski, Procurement Director: Caroline spearheads the Procurement team by managing the sourcing of goods and services for Fres-co, acting as a bridge between our company’s needs and suppliers.

Reflecting on Journeys of Growth

For young women looking to branch into manufacturing careers, it can be daunting to know where to start. Below we share how some of our women leaders started their own journeys.

For Fres-co CEO, Ileana Tovaglieri, a passion for solving problems, regardless of their nature, geography, or difficulty, was a driving force that led her to the manufacturing industry. In her 27 years of experience, she worked first as an auditor and then as a strategic consultant before transitioning to the opposite side of the desk, working to implement processes and solutions firsthand. This nonlinear path not only provided her with a variety of lenses within the industry, but also allowed her to travel globally and experience different cultures, especially throughout China and the U.S.

“My journey thus far has been everything but standard, and there is a great value in having a broad range of experiences, from a cultural perspective to a technical one,” said Ileana. “I learned that there are many different ways of managing, solving problems, and dealing with people and my toolbox is far richer than I had ever imagined.”

Fidan Labbe, Business Director of Specialty, also came to Fres-co 10 years ago with a diverse background, working in a variety of sales roles across different international companies from Volkswagen Turkey, YKK, Coca-Cola, to Greif NA and Sunjut. Initially aspiring to be a teacher, she instead followed in her parents’ footsteps and began a path in manufacturing, starting at Volkswagen Turkey, where she became enthralled by the energy and processes on the production floor. Throughout her career, she credits her managers of all different nationalities and cultures who trusted in her abilities and perseverance.

Sarah Pirelli, Fres-co Extrusion Manager, and Caroline Majewski, Fres-co Procurement Director, have been with Fres-co for four and seven years, respectively, but each have over a decade of industry experience.

After graduating with a B.S. in Chemistry with minors in BioChem and Forensic Toxicology, Sarah was looking for an entryway into the pharmaceutical industry when she first ventured into the world of manufacturing. However, she quickly found a permanent home in manufacturing with its hands-on, fast-paced atmosphere, working in a variety of quality control roles within chemical laboratories, and eventually finding Fres-co four years ago.

Caroline Majewski’s commitment to the principles of continuous improvement has not only irrevocably shaped her procurement career, but also her personal life. Her daily dedication to learning, adapting, and evolving began in college, where she gained invaluable insight on the intricacies of the production process by professors who had firsthand experience in the manufacturing industry. Starting her own journey as a buyer in the steel industry, she eagerly seized opportunities outside the constraints of her role, expanding her knowledge, skills, and honing her abilities to adapt and innovate.

Providing Diverse Perspectives and Insights

The manufacturing industry has advanced significantly over the last several decades. From sustainability, lean manufacturing, to increasing a global footprint, the packaging industry, especially flexible packaging, is going through a stage of disruption that will shape it for years to come.

Flexible packaging is a dynamic industry, providing a unique opportunity in the value chain to provide customers with innovative products that resolve complex challenges. The women of Fres-co are embracing the challenges and waves of change that come with this paradigm shift.

”I’m excited for the coming challenges to force us to change our approach to processing and increase our focus on culture,” says Sarah Pirelli. “We are at a transition point where we need to improve our global footprint, improve lean manufacturing and be recycle-ready, but also focus and invest in our people. It’s rewarding to try to bridge those projects and see both our processes improve and our teams working better together.”

Across the industry, there is widespread recognition that diversity of perspectives, ideas, experience, and skills is an important driver of a competitive edge for businesses, particularly when it comes to innovation in products and processes. Creating a more gender-diverse organization is a key component.

“I believe gender diversity is critical in all industries,” says Caroline Majewski. “Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table that can lead to a broader range of ideas and solutions that foster innovation and creativity.”

Over her 27-year career, Fres-co CEO, Ileana Tovaglieri, has seen firsthand how different viewpoints can aid in better decision making for complex challenges.

“Women have a special talent in finding positive solutions while including a diversity of voices,” says Ileana. “The flexible packaging industry is still heavily male-dominated and more women can only help during such a disruptive period. As my history shows, I have been working in many different places, cultures, and environments and I learned that only by embracing different views, can we make sure we are considering all factors in complex decisions. As we all bring to the table our own experience, the more diverse it is, the more we can have a complete understanding of complex problems.”

A Collective for Women In Manufacturing

Creating networks and cohorts that bring together women in manufacturing to ensure they feel supported and empowered in their careers can help bring more women into the fold. With Sarah Pirelli spearheading the initiative, many of the women at Fres-co have recently found a source of knowledge and encouragement in the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of Women in Manufacturing

The Women in Manufacturing (WiM) organization seeks to provide a meeting ground for women in manufacturing to expand their local network, build valuable business relationships, and enjoy industry-related programming. There are currently more than 20,000 individual members representing more than 3,000 manufacturing companies across 48 U.S. states and from 47 countries. WiM encompasses manufacturers of all types and welcomes individuals from every job function—from production to the C-Suite.

Sarah Pirelli reflects on organizing Fres-co’s first meeting to a WiM Eastern Pennsylvania event: “I enjoyed seeing the spark it lit in the women that attended from Fres-co. Because of Women in Manufacturing, we have made connections among departments that don’t typically interact and have formed a better collaborative atmosphere.”

 

Challenging the Status Quo While Maintaining Balance

Fostering a work environment where team members, especially women, feel comfortable, heard, and supported is crucial to the long-term success of the company. At Fres-co, this has meant encouraging idea sharing without judgment, providing equal opportunities for women to earn and take on leadership roles, pushing for educational events and memberships, and creating a flexible and family-centric culture.

Fidan Labbe is the first woman in her role as Business Director of Fres-co’s Specialty unit. As she looks back at her journey, she says, “I am very lucky to have superiors who have been there for me whenever I needed them. They listened to my ideas, good and bad, without any judgment. Most importantly, they valued my experiences and helped me use those experiences to shape the company.”

Seeing women take on leadership roles has a strong trickle down effect on the rest of the team. They help companies become more open, resilient, and effective.

“Women in higher visibility positions serve as a beacon that helps empower other women in the company and paves realistic pathways to some that may not have thought it was possible,” says Sarah Pirelli. “It has opened gateways to becoming a member of Women in Manufacturing, where our network grows even larger and gives our employees additional resources to grow more in the industry and as leaders.”

At Fres-co, we’re working towards creating an inclusive and gender-diverse workplace that helps our team members do their best work. Here are a few of the ways we’re working towards this goal:

  • Diversifying leadership: We understand the value that people of different backgrounds bring to the table and empower the women of Fres-co to pursue opportunities at every level.
  • Fostering connection: We’re working toward creating more opportunities for workshops and membership events, like Women In Manufacturing, to help cultivate a culture of trust, inclusivity, and empathy.
  • Parental leave and support: We’re proud to offer our women employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave and 1 week paid for men. We also work to support a smooth transition upon our team member’s return, offering a private Lactation Room with additional accommodations. Most importantly, we foster a flexible workplace that values families and the responsibilities that come with it.
  • Building an inclusive place to work: We aim to create an inclusive culture where team members of all backgrounds and abilities feel they belong.

Explore What Fres-co Has to Offer

As a flexible packaging innovator, we’re working towards leading the way not only in our product and service offerings, but also in the workplace we create. Contact us to learn about our career opportunities or to learn more about the Fres-co women featured in this edition.

 

For more than 40 years, Fres-co System USA, Inc. has manufactured high-performance flexible packaging systems and invented dozens of innovative breakthroughs including degassing valves, modified atmosphere technologies, and reclosure systems.

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