The Women of Fres-co, Part II: Fres-co Women Share Their Career Journeys in the Packaging Industry

March 7, 2024 | By The Fres-co Team

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The packaging industry is going through a transformative change. From the push for more sustainable solutions to rapid digitalization and automation technologies, new opportunities are emerging, but the battle for gender diversity is still an ongoing one.

According to historical data, only 5% of the packaging industry roles were held by women prior to 1980. While that number has risen to 30-40% in 2020, this falls short of the total 47% female workforce. Many factors play into this discrepancy, including an inability to attract young female talent into the industry, challenges balancing careers with childcare, and the lack of female role models in a male-dominated space.

At Fres-co, we believe that women play a vital role in pushing the packaging industry further. Women bring diverse perspectives to the table, possess strong technical skills, excel at communication and collaboration, and more. 

To mark International Women’s Day and beyond, we’re highlighting the voices of four more women at Fres-co in the second part of a greater series called The Women of Fres-co, which aims to highlight the journeys, accomplishments, and visions of the dedicated women on our team. Check out the first edition for more inspirational stories.

The Women of Fres-co System USA, Inc.

Each of the women profiled in this edition have a wide range of experiences, skills sets, and aspirations. While their roles are focused across different departments, including production, quality assurance, customer service, and sales administration, they are all part of a collective team of women shaping change within manufacturing.

This installment highlights the following women team members at Fres-co: Kim Kurdes, Print/Lamination Support Area Supervisor: As Production Supervisor, Kim’s responsibilities include overseeing the production team and working cross-departmentally to assure the quality of our manufactured products. Amanda Barker, Quality Audit and Documentation Specialist: Amanda works to support all areas of quality assurance. This includes overseeing the production floor, securing Certificates of Analysis (COAs), and conducting monthly audits to ensure Good Manufacturing Processes (GMPs) are being utilized, and more. Kay Sivel, Trade Show Planner/Coordinator: Kay spearheads the planning and organization of Fres-co’s trade show program. She also interacts with all departments to help coordinate other administrative activities. Wendi Smith, Customer Service Manager: Customer service is the voice of the customer within Fres-co, and Wendi ensures that it's not only heard, but that all needs and desires are met. This includes coordination across departments to revise items, schedule shipments, and oversee the complete customer experience.

Finding Footing and Passion in a Career

The path to finding a career has significantly evolved over time. With each passing year, people are flouting the tradition of a linear job path and are pursuing alternative routes to career success and gratification. Below we share how some of our women team members started their own journeys in flexible packaging.

Kim Kurdes, Print/Lamination Support Area Supervisor, started her career training in the PA State Police Academy, with aspirations to move into the CSI and forensics field. However, when she started her family, she pivoted to using her bachelor’s degree in chemistry as QA Lab Technician in the cement industry, where she conducted liquid and solid fuel analyses. These different experiences throughout her career conditioned her to reach higher and earn respect in traditionally male-dominated areas. She also had opportunities to work directly with women in leadership roles, which helped transcend stereotypical limitations and encouraged her to pursue managerial roles.

“All of these roles have made me feel empowered as a woman. In the academy, I had to pass all of the same tests as the men, so I was on an equal level with them,” said Kim. “I also had a female boss along the way that made me feel like anything was possible.”

Kim has four children and is anticipating another addition to her growing family soon. She says that her greatest joy is showing her children, other family members, and friends the packaging Fres-co creates. She’s proud of Fres-co’s innovations and growing use by major brands.

Amanda Barker, Quality Audit and Documentation Specialist, came to Fres-co over three years ago with 12 years of experience in quality assurance, but in the textile and biological laboratory manufacturing space. Starting as a Quality Inspector, she quickly moved up to a Quality Technician role, performing tests to check materials against ASTM and client specifications. Moving from the textile industry to packaging, she’s noticed both similarities and differences, but most of all, enjoys how her role has evolved at Fres-co.

“At Fres-co, I’ve been tasked with goals yearly and continue to gain knowledge in the industry,” says Amanda. “Recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn and grow our document control program.”

Amanda thrives in learning the intricacies of how products are made and how they function. Her proudest moment, though, is achieving her career accomplishments without holding a college degree. She is a mother of one and is an ongoing inspiration to many team members at Fres-co for her perseverance and integrity. 

Kay Sivel, Trade Show Planner/Coordinator, has had a tenured career with Fres-co that spans 35 years. Throughout this time, she credits Fres-co’s flexibility for allowing her focus to shift and evolve, adding new responsibilities and challenges to keep her interested and engaged. She’s held a variety of roles that have spanned a telecommunications function to Graphics Secretary and Marketing Assistant, to her role today.

Wendi Smith, Customer Service Manager, has been active in the flexible packaging industry for over 17 years and joined Fres-co three years ago. Her roles have ranged from Administrative Assistant to the President, Director of Finance and HR Manager, Customer Satisfaction Manager, to a Business Development and Marketing Manager role. Along the way, she realized serving as the voice for customers felt most rewarding to her, and came to Fres-co to reignite her passion in the role as Customer Service Manager.

Providing Support from the Top-Down

Women represent manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent. They are essential to addressing the skills gap within the industry and in providing diverse perspectives that can evolve problem solving processes. However, companies must be the driving force in encouraging, incentivizing, and promoting women to enter and advance in the industry.

At Fres-co, having women in leadership positions, including Ileana Tovaglieri as CEO, has helped encourage and inspire many other women team members. 

“Having a woman at the helm gives young, career-oriented women hope,” says Kay Sivel. “The ceiling is at least higher, if not yet removed, and hope is the best thing you can offer a person.”

As a mother of three, Kay Sivel has also felt supported by Fres-co’s approach to work-life balance. When she was first hired, she was the primary caregiver of her three sons, which required her to juggle many responsibilities at once so having trust and flexibility in the workplace made a big difference.

“In those early days, I often had to respond to calls from the school nurse that someone was sick, or from the babysitter that someone crashed his bike and needed stitches,” says Kay. “Fres-co was flexible with me.” 

Amanda Barker felt encouraged by the women in leadership when she had the opportunity to present employee survey findings from across all departments to CEO, Ileana Tovaglieri.

Amanda says, “[Ileana] listened to what I brought to the table from the employees on the floor. I was able to communicate potential improvements that could strengthen the company, and we’ve implemented some of these changes in the last year.”

Women In Manufacturing Events

Empowering women in leadership roles isn’t the only way we’re working to create an inclusive and gender-diverse workplace. In an effort to empower and support women in manufacturing, Sarah Pirelli spearheaded Fres-co’s participation in the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of Women in Manufacturing

The Women in Manufacturing (WiM) organization aims to support, promote, and inspire women in manufacturing careers by helping them expand their local network, build valuable business relationships, and enjoy industry-related programming. The organization accomplishes this through the delivery of powerful, effective, and proven resources to women in the industry and in the companies that employ them.

”The Women In Manufacturing events have been a very rewarding experience for me,” says Wendi Smith. “It has helped women within Fres-co that might not normally work together or know each other be able to meet and build relationships. It is great to see women supporting and lifting up other women in the organization.”

Finding support from other women is something that hits close to home for Wendi. Growing up, she says that she was always inspired by her mother who worked full time as a Payroll & HR Manager and who also created a strong sense of home for her father, brother, and herself. Now as a mother of two, Wendi is following in her mother’s footsteps, serving as a dedicated Fres-co team member and as a role model to her daughters.

For Kim Kurdes, the events have also been a great way to connect, but especially in person: “I really enjoy the events because it has helped me get to know and interact with the other women in person. Sometimes you only interact with other departments through email, but these meetings really let us connect on a deeper level with each other, which in turn, makes us more supportive of each other.”

Building An Inclusive Place to Work

Building an inclusive workplace that attracts, retains, and advances women in the packaging industry is one of our growing focuses at Fres-co. Here are a few of the ways we’re working towards this goal:

      • Integrating women into the corporate strategy: We actively encourage women to participate in all levels of decision-making, ensuring their voices and perspectives are heard in shaping our company’s future. This also includes diversifying our leadership team.
      • Building a community for networking: We’re working toward creating opportunities for networking events, like Women In Manufacturing, to help create a safe space to generate ideas, motivate peers, share best practices, and give and receive guidance.
      • 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. 

Explore What Fres-co Has to Offer

At Fres-co, we’re working towards leading the way in more ways than just our products and service offerings. We want to build a more inclusive, safe, and enjoyable workplace. Contact us at contact@fresco.com to learn about our career opportunities or to learn more about the women of Fres-co 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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