Listen to Victoria Revisit Past Episodes and Discuss Building A Culture of Success for Women in Chemicals:

Exploring strategies that foster a culture of success for women in the chemical industry, host Victoria Meyer shares insights from previous guests on The Chemical Show. Victoria explores women’s perspectives on business leadership and culture in the chemical industry.  

In this episode, Victoria features discussions on practical strategies for building diversity, such as focusing on inclusion, establishing early connections with universities, and creating mentorship programs. Emphasizing the importance of recognizing and leveraging the unique skills of individuals, Victoria shares more about how to promote empathy in the innovation process, and create a workplace culture that supports collaboration and customer satisfaction. 

The diverse experiences and insights shared by the speakers provide valuable perspectives on shaping a successful and inclusive future for women in the chemical industry.

  • Red Sea events that are affecting shipping through the Suez Canal
  • How excess shipping capacity is alleviating some of the global shipping predicament
  • Shipping equipment restrictions and tightness affecting global shipping 
  • Panama Canal challenges
  • Alternatives to the Panama Canal
  • Impacts on the logistics industry and customers and what’s ahead in shipping


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Additional Links:

  1. On Creating a Unique Culture, Digital Transformation, and Sustainability in the Chemical Industry with Jennifer McIntyre and Kelly Gilroy, Univar Solutions 
  2. How AdvanSix Is Winning The Market With Sarah Waller
  3. Building an Inclusive Culture with Dr. Lauran Star
  4. How CEPSA Uses Customer Insights Drive Transformation with Juliana Pantalena
  5. Creating a Robust Employee Value Proposition at Palmer Holland with Jaycie Bradshaw
  6. Increasing Demand of Biotechnology in Cleaning with Rashda Khan of Barentz
  7. Mitigating Risk in Chemicals Through Language Translation with Karen Tkaczyk


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Watch Victoria Discuss Creating a Culture of Success for Women in Chemicals on Youtube Here:

Building a Culture of Success for Women in Chemicals

Hi. This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show, Where Chemicals Means Business. We are at the start of women’s history month, and International Women’s Day is right around the corner. Creating opportunities for women in stem and chemicals is critical to the future of our industry. Today, I have a special episode about building a culture of success for women in chemicals. And, frankly, not just women, but all people, men, women, and our future generations. So on the chemical show, as I interview people, I often ask them about how they get started in their career and how to create culture and success, as well as how to attract more people into the chemical industry.

So, today, I am interspersing my insights from my 150 plus episodes with leaders in the industry along with various guests of The Chemical Show. So if you are listening and you are not currently a subscriber, I’m gonna tell you to pause right now and make sure you’re subscribing to The Chemical Show on whatever podcast player you’re on or if you’re listening and watching on YouTube. As my kids would say, just smash that subscribe button. I don’t normally say that, but I’m throwing that in for my girls.

Anyway, creating a culture of success in chemicals includes these elements. Number 1, engaging students early. Engaging them early to understand about chemistry and chemicals. The second one is to be inclusive, and we’re gonna learn more about that. The third is engaging universities, as well as creating support and mentoring for employees in the workplace. The 4th is a really interesting one. The 4th one is about recognizing and utilizing your transferable skills. So, often we see people in the industry that maybe are surprising, in terms of the fact that they’re working in chemicals given where they’ve worked previously or the types of roles that they’re in. So stay tuned, and you’re gonna wanna listen to that one about, recognizing and utilizing your transferable skills and the transferable skills of the people around you. Number 5, empathy, and the role that empathy plays in successfully innovating in our business with our customers, with our employees, and with our teams. Number 6, the importance of collaboration and of being part of a whole, and helping our employees bring their whole selves to work. We’re gonna learn more about that. And then number 7, is the criticality of customer alignment across the organization. So stay tuned. We’re getting into each one of those as we go along today.

diverse group of women in chemicals

 So first up, I am kicking off with Karen Tkaczyk who spoke to us in Episode 111, Mitigating Risk in Chemicals Through Language Translation. Karen is a PhD chemist who worked in the industry and now supports the chemical industry through language translation. If you ever wondered how the safety data sheets that you’re reading in different countries got appropriately transcribed into a local language, well, think a translator. According to Karen and many people that I’ve spoken with, have you ever wondered how Karen and others got interested in chemistry and the chemical industry? Well, thank a teacher. Let’s listen to Karen talk about the importance of engaging early.

Karen Tkaczyk on Engaging Students Early

It’s great to have you here. Let’s start with your origin story. What’s your origin story? What got you interested in chemistry? And ultimately, what got you to what I would consider a nontraditional field for a PhD chemist?

Right. Absolutely. What got me? Middle school, the teacher doing demonstration of how metals react in water. We were learning about the periodic table in no flame color, whether they fizz- that was my first love chemistry.

I really liked blowing up soap bubbles, creating a gas into soap bubbles and boom, they explode.

Lovely. Well, how surfactants work is fun and lovely as well. Yeah. But I still remember potassium burns with a violet flame and magnesium is that bright white.
Anyway, that was when I fell in love with chemistry. I also always loved languages. So I was trying throughout high school to study both. As much science as I could, leaning towards chemistry and as much language as I could. My undergraduate degree in the UK would be an equivalent in the United States of a Chemistry Major with a French Minor. I spent a year abroad working in a pharma company, Rumpur Langk. It’s now part of Sanofi Aventis. I loved chemistry all through that time. I was the kind who went to organic chemistry in college and fell more in love with organic chemistry and kept going in that direction. We all know the clear split. Right? So I loved it, and I went headlong into that and went on to do a PhD in organic synthetic methodology in Cambridge with the late great doctor Stuart Warren, he died last year. Early on in that PhD though, I realized that I didn’t want to be in academia, I wanted to apply the science.

So when I got out I worked as a development chemist for what was then SmithKline Beecham, near Cork in Ireland. Still loved chemistry, but we moved to the states. My husband and I wanted an adventure. So when I moved to States, I got a job in a cosmetics and medical device company. Think lotions and potions, wind gels, moisturizing. That was broadening my experience, broadening my industrial experience. Formulation chemistry is a different kind of chemistry than the heavily organic, synthetic, pharma, life sciences stuff I had started with. So that was really my early chemistry career. Then when I had kids, that’s where the switch started. I did go back to work, but then I decided I didn’t want to work. I took a break, had 2 more kids. That was where, as a housewife I discovered freelance translation. So I became a linguist at that point translating chemistry. So that was really where the switch happened.

Yeah, and I guess I don’t often think of translators having the academic and chemistry prowess that you have, but that’s really interesting.

In this world of language services, you’ll find people who specialize in automotive or in legal or in whatever it is, because you can’t translate something you don’t understand. Right? For instance, I don’t like reading contracts in English, even if I have to sign them. So I wouldn’t want to translate one. You can’t translate a chemistry patent or even a safety data sheet if you don’t understand the chemistry. So there’s a whole world out there of engineers and scientists translating for the language services industry with subject matter expertise.

Next, we’re gonna talk about the importance of inclusion. Inclusion is different and yet is also the leading indicator for diversity. So doctor Lauran Star was on Episode 88, Building an Inclusive Culture. And Lauran has a PhD in inclusion and diversity, which is with an emphasis on the inclusion. Inclusion, helping people feel part of the whole. We talked, again, about the importance of early engagement in education and in high school to get students into university, and how that is one way that companies can help create that diversity and inclusion and help support women in the industry.

Dr. Lauran Star on Inclusion

If we look at the chemical industry. It’s an old industry. It’s industrial, and it is STEM-focused. Because of its history, it can be really hard to recruit people, in particular, women and minorities into the industry, which makes it hard to be diverse, which is our measurement, which also affects inclusion. What are the opportunities to change? One that does this makes it harder given that we’re very STEM-focused. How do we create inclusion more effectively in the industry and bring more diversity into the industry? What do you observe? What do you see and what do your clients see?

In the chemical industry, it’s really fascinating. I will say that the majority of chemical companies I’ve worked with get it. I like to think of my chemical community as my critical thinkers. They get it. I don’t have to explain things 20 times. They get it the first time and we can move on. When we talk about increasing that diversity, inclusion is the way to increase that diversity and build an inclusive organizational culture. When I get a call that we want you to come in and increase diversity in the chemical company, the first question is how do you know you don’t have diversity in your company? If only 23% of graduates are female in chemical engineering, how many women do you have working for you? It’s because you can’t have 23%. Look at the numbers.

I agree. You can’t change the demographics back to your earlier point. Match the demographic out that need to match the demographics along across the organization. 

That number is lower for people of color who are graduating. I think we need to step back and go, wait a minute. How many disabilities? How many veterans? Let’s look at the whole spectrum of diversity. I also want you to recognize that as humans, we are 99.9% similar in the DNA code. That leaves 0.01% for our specialization. That’s our unique and I am diverse from you, Victoria. We have different eye color. We live in different areas. We had different childhoods. So we already have some of that diversity. When you build that inclusive organizational culture, when everyone is feeling heard, then you bring up, how do we recruit? How do we drive attracting more diversity? Here’s why we want problem-solving. It’s understanding our customer base. Okay, how are we going to get that? This is where you utilize your ESG, Environment, Social, and Governance. Are you doing anything at the local university to attract women into STEM or minorities into STEM? I always come back and say, what are you doing to increase enrollment in your local university? But if we’re not doing anything, then you’re part of the problem. It’s because we just can’t manufacture diversity if we’re not showing the way. I have one organization here up in New Hampshire that actually created a STEM program for all in high school, but it was really geared and the language was geared towards women of color with low socioeconomics.

One of my daughters is going into chemical engineering, and she’s going into chemical engineering tissue. It’s really cool. Your industry is changing. It’s no longer just chemical. She would not have gone into this program. It’s because we’re in a solid school district. They looked at a socio-economic area that had a lot of diversity in their student population, especially girls. They created a STEM light bulb program. They meet after school. They met with all kinds of chemical engineers. They met with a few other engineers as well, like mechanical, civil engineers, mechatronics, and robotics. Then, if you are part of the program, here was the dangle. If you’ve completed the program, they gave you $1,000 towards college. I am guaranteed an internship for your freshman year.

That’s worth even more. That’s huge.

I just sit back and I was so amazed. There were 20 graduates last year. They’re all going to STEM colleges, and they’re all going to come back next year. They’re in their freshman summer and doing an internship with this company. It’s not a paid internship in their freshman year. They’re sure money of $20,000. That’s amazing! Now, we have loyalty. Because one thing we know about diverse candidates, they tend to be a lot more loyal. If the organization is inclusive, why would I ever want to wreck that boat? It’s because I’ve been kicked on the head enough in society. We don’t have the numbers we want right now. But in five years, we are going to be leading.

I think what’s interesting about that is it is a long game. To your point, it’s hard to get 50% women in leadership at a chemical company. You’re not hiring 50% of women. There are not 50% of women come out with STEM degrees. It takes a long time. There are a couple of organizations, one in particular, that I’ve done some work with Chemical Educational Foundation, CEF. We actually target students of all genders, races, et cetera. But it targets students in middle school to get them interested in chemicals and chemistry because you have to plant the seeds early. Because you can’t fix it at the tail end if you haven’t fixed it at the beginning.

Alright. Well, I’m sensing a theme here, engaging early while women and girls are still in school. The next topic is the role of mentoring, sponsorship, and support. I spoke with Juliana Pantalena of SPSA on Episode 90, Using Customer Insights to Drive Transformation. Juliana shares her insights about how creating a culture of mentoring and support is critical in creating a culture of success. Here’s Juliana.

Juliana Pantalena on The Role of Mentoring, Sponsorship, and Support

From your point of view, how do we start attracting more women into the industry? I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago on the podcast with the DEI expert. We talked about how you can only promote based on what the pool of available candidates says. We can only bring women into the industry who have not just the desire, but also the credentials, either as engineers, finance, marketing, or whatever it may be. How do we create that success? What’s been critical for you and how do you think we help the next generation?

I think that you start with what you said about the bases at least in Brazil now, not in Spain because I’m just beginning. But in Brazil, I used to be invited to my old university to give some speeches there. That will definitely trigger women to understand where we could go. I think that we need to strengthen our relationship with our universities, or even whatever we are working. We’re so global that we can work from everywhere, but strengthen relationships with universities, or even potentially schools. Just to trigger a little bit more on this pool of people that would be available, but definitely, I like to have great people working within their teams. It can be men, women, or other genders.  It doesn’t matter.

They need to bring value to the team. Women specifically, we definitely can try to look more for them. When you’re hiring an analyst, a manager, a director, or whoever, definitely keep your eyes open and understand the differences between the men and the women who are out there fighting for that job. Get whoever is the best. We need to be confident about that. Give women a little bit more availability or opportunities. But honestly, that’s nice. What made me here, and hopefully continue to grow is the people that support me. So I have, and I used to have, and I still do have great coaches. Not because they were my coach, but at one point, they were my bosses during my whole career, and they used to help me a lot.  They understand what we go through. They can help us, giving us pieces of advice, supporting what we do, or how to tweak some things that need to be better. That’s for anybody, again, men, women, or whoever, but having people that support us that you can just pick up the phone and say you need help. It’s because this is happening. It doesn’t matter if you still work with this person or not, what really makes a difference. So having a mentor, having someone that helps us makes the difference whenever you’re trying to jump into your career and take some difficult decisions.

I think that’s great. Coaching, mentoring, and having the network to support you is so critical for everyone to really be able to thrive and grow.

You feel safe. I know that I can count on this or that person. These people keep helping you to keep growing in the industry. Maybe your goal is to be where you want and that’s it. Maybe my goal is to keep traveling, and maybe my goal is to be where I am, but you need people to support you and you feel comfortable discussing it.

Next up on creating a culture of success is identifying, recognizing, and enabling transferable skills. It is rare that somebody shows up that has exactly what you think they need or perhaps exactly the experience that looks and feels and is shaped like you want that person’s experience and their expertise to be. So, my next guests in this little clip are Jen McIntyre and Kelly Gilroy from Univar Solutions, and they were on Episode 68 of The Chemical Show. The episode is entitled, On Creating a unique Culture, Digital Transformation, and Sustainability in the Chemical Industry. What I think is really great about these two ladies is they both had tremendously successful careers, and a big part of it is embracing and identifying transferable skills and not being afraid to go after a different role. So Jen, and Kelly will both talk about that, I’m not gonna steal their thunder. Here we go.

Jennifer McIntyre & Kelly Gilroy on Identifying, Recognizing and Enabling Transferable Skills

Kelly: It’s a different route. Jen started early and I was a late bloomer. I studied Accounting in college and I’m a CPA. I was studying Accounting because I was at a school that was good at Accounting. The practical side of me said, “I’ll always have a job.” I started at JPMorgan Chase. My pattern in life was to start in finance and end up over on the business side.

Kelly: I went to a banking school. I ended up working for a customer, the same thing, started in finance and went over to the line and that’s why I love chemicals because in chemicals I went right to the business side. I started at Nalco Chemicals at Nalco Company, which is now Ecolab. They were going through a merger and needed someone in Chicago.

Kelly: Not only did I get to learn chemistry, but I also had my first full-time sales job. When you’re in banking, we call ourselves relationship managers. What I had skills in was solving complex problems and negotiating with lots of different stakeholders. In banking, I always wanted to be where we were making something. Chemicals did that. There’s a lot of innovation here and connectivity.

It’s interesting that you started in banking because I don’t think of people making the leap from banking, finance, and that world into the chemical industry. A bit hands-off and clean industry into a hands-on industry. That is a big leap.

Kelly: It’s been a lot of fun, but a lot of the same skills. I like to be on the customer side. I love the language of finance, so I can help our customers know how they’re going to make money, same thing on the supply side. I look at accounting as a language that connects us all. As I move into sustainability, we need to find ways where we can grow sustainably. We’ve got to make money, but often that comes with an investment too. It’s working well in this new role as well.

collaboration and teamwork of women in chemicals

There has to be a case for action in a business case. People aren’t going to make a change, buy a product or take on a new initiative just because it’s fun. It’s got to make business and financial sense to yourself, customers, suppliers, et cetera. See that connection. Jen, you’ve spent a big part of your career in the supply chain, and yet now you lead people and company culture for Univar. Was that a stretch? It feels like a stretch and then again not. What’s your perspective on that?

Jennifer: It’s important that people recognize how highly transferable skills are. Sometimes we want to stay in our lane when in fact, the things that we’re good at can transfer over. For me, everything has a process and there’s data behind everything. If you can bring process and data, which is something that I would’ve brought through operations and supply chain, but bring that over to our human capital, it adds a lot of value. That’s transferable.

Jennifer: One of the things that I’ve loved about being at Univar Solutions is that it’s a company where you have a lot of opportunities. I have spent a lot of my time at Univar Solutions on people-centered solutions. Particularly, when we did the integration focusing on company culture. It was something that was important to take the culture of Univar and Nexeo Solutions, and how do we come together to create our own unique company culture versus one or the other? What I’ve said to people is, “It wasn’t my aspiration to be a chief human resources officer. In a way, I was interviewing for it for my entire career because it’s always been so central to who I am.”

Next up is the importance of empathy in creating your culture of success, and this is empathy in innovation and empathy and innovation. Rashda Khan of Barentz talks to us about the role of empathy in innovation. It’s being empathetic to your customer, to your employees, and to your end customer in creating this culture of collaboration, empathy, and opportunity within your team and your broader stakeholder set. So here’s Rashda. She was featured on Episode 96 of The Chemical Show, Increasing Demand of Biotechnology in Cleaning. Here we go.

Rashda Khan on Empathy

Let’s talk about innovation a little bit. That’s your focus, and it seems like it’s been your focus for quite a long time. What does the innovation process look like at Barentz? Where does it start? Where does it end? How do you progress through that process?

To me, innovation is everywhere. It’s not just a product. It could be a process. It’s everywhere. So how can we think of new ways of doing things and developing things that add value? So at Barentz, there are three main factors. The first one is technical and ideation expertise. That’s the first part. It’s the formulary expertise that I mentioned previously. And then knowing how to reframe problems, how to connect, and build in connected thinking, and ideation. That’s very important. It goes along with technical expertise. So that’s one aspect of it.

The second aspect is the product portfolio. This is where our principles and our suppliers play a huge role. Expanding the product portfolio and having the right products to provide solutions to our customers is absolutely critical. And the third aspect is market insight and intelligence. This is the consumer insights, the customer insights. In innovation, in general, we need to have the technical expertise as the backbone but we need to have empathy for the consumer, empathy for the customer, and empathy with our team members along with curiosity. Those are the three things, which are curiosity, ideating, looking for new solutions, and being innovative.

That’s really good. That’s a really interesting take on it. But I think you’re right, we have to be empathetic to our customers and our consumers to be able to meet their needs and into the team as well, as you go through this process, That was really good.

Empathy is really understanding the other person’s struggle. So it could be a win-win situation. What is the struggle that they’re trying to solve?

Tying into this, the next factor in building a culture of success is collaboration. Here, we’ve got Jaycie Bradshaw of Palmer Holland talking about attracting and retaining talent in the chemical industry. According to Jaycie, and probably according to a lot of people, collaboration is key. Jaycie was featured on Episode 93 of The Chemical Show, Creating a Robust Employee Value Proposition.

Jaycie Bradshaw on Collaboration

As you guys look to recruit younger employees, and recent college grads, maybe not directly from college, but certainly like in the first five to 10 years, millennials and Gen Z, what are they looking for? What are their priorities? I think this is sometimes a mystery. We all have an opinion on it. But what are they really looking for in companies that they’re going to?

I touched on that collaboration, and just the notion that what it mean to collaborate and be connected with each other. Continuing to expand the boundaries of what partnership means, both internally and externally, in every form, employees are looking for ways that they can connect and find camaraderie in each other, whether remote or in person. Employees are looking for ways in which they can feel and see the value that they’re bringing in and say that the work that they’re doing today matters. Focusing on how we can continue to provide engagement opportunities or ways in which they can feel invested in a part of Palmer Holland is definitely something that I think that they’re after, and not stopping there and saying they really love being a part of Homer Holland, and their needs are being met in that.  But what is Palmer Holland doing for others? How are they giving back? How are we being better strategic partners to some of our principals and our customers? What are the ways in which we are affecting our community positively?

I think they’re after that. They want to see that and they want to see not just lip service, but they want to see an organization that’s doing it. That’s acting on that. Timings everything. But last week, we had a Palmer Holland day of service where our workforce, either in person or remote, was given opportunities to give back to the community. We had a food bank organization, and it really gave employees an opportunity to unplug maybe from the day-to-day responsibilities that they always do and say they’re going to just take a moment with their colleagues and give back while they’re doing it. I think that’s important. It’s all a blend, but people are really looking for an organization where they can have it all.

Our final highlight and final message on building a culture of success comes from Sarah Waller of AdvanSix. Sarah was featured on Episode 75 of The Chemical Show. In talking about business transformation, we also discussed the critical skills that people across a company need to develop to create customer transformation and a culture of success. Sarah’s point was about customer alignment and recognizing that every role across the company is customer facing in its own way and that we can create opportunities to harness that and to bring the team into alignment to create that culture. So here’s Sarah.

Sarah Waller on The Criticality of Customer Alignment Across an Organization

I know that you, Sarah, since you have been in your role, have been leading and driving transformation or have been a part of AdvanSix’s transformation journey. A lot of people are working for you both from a business perspective and a manufacturing perspective. When you think about that transformation and the people that are involved in it, what are the critical skills for the future?

It is a big transformation. The privilege of leading a talented team, sales, marketing, manufacturing, customer experience, and R&D. We are the pivot point, as we talked about in our evolution, moving from this company that has this rich history in manufacturing to truly understanding our customers in a way that we can help them grow.

For me, there are a lot of critical skills to lead this type of change, highlighting a couple of customer focus, planning and alignment and the ability to do that, and leadership for the post-COVID era. You think about customer focus in a company that has a lot of history in manufacturing. This means that everyone in this organization has to have a picture of where we are headed and how we serve our customers.

We all impact our customers. We are all, in some way, shape, or form, customer- serving. It’s not always that internal customer. There’s a big customer at the end here. There’s an opportunity to coach and mentor our teams to make sure they understand that the decisions they are making make a difference for our customers. We talked a little bit about digitization, positioning, and all that stuff earlier, too.

The planning and the aligning piece is around strategy, communications, and the ability to make decisions quickly to pivot directions. Make a decision, fail fast, move on, and move with the pace of the industry. Also, as we are getting into this era in the industry, this is what I’ve seen. We’ve thought about leaders as either strategists who transform or operators who execute. Now you need both of those. That ratio could change depending on what you need in business from time to time. Those are important.

Two young women in chemicals discuss investment project working and planning strategy. Business people talking together with laptop computer at office.

Alright, folks. That’s a wrap. We started out this episode talking about the importance of creating a culture of success for women in chemicals and bringing more women into the chemical industry as part of Women’s History Month. However, this also is really applicable to all of our employees, making them feel collaborative, empathetic, engaged, starting early in the educational process, introducing them to chemistry and the chemical industry and STEM fields. So a lot of great tips and tidbits here, in this episode of The Chemical Show. I hope that you enjoyed it.

In fact, if you did enjoy it, you could leave a 5 star review. We always like those. But, also, go ahead and send me a message on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you in terms of what stood out for you and what would you add to this list when we talk about building a culture of success. What else do we need to add? So thanks for listening to The Chemical Show today. Keep listening, keep following, keep sharing, and we will talk with you again soon.