Statistics show that women are underrepresented in Europe’s engineering industry, even as demand for new, innovative, and sustainable packaging ramps up. Carey Causey, President, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe, EMEA, underlines the importance of diversity in her line of work and lays out the necessary measures to encourage and support female engineers in the workforce.

Benin, a country in West Africa, has the highest percentage of women engineer graduates in the world. According to a UNESCO Science Report (2021), Benin’s women engineering graduates represent 54.6% of all engineering graduates in the country. The report highlights that countries including Algeria, Sudan, and Syria also have more than 40% female engineer graduates, while the UK (23.5%), Germany (21.1%), France (26.1%), and Spain (26.6%) fall short of this figure.

Engineering is often seen as an inherently gendered industry. Currently, women account for 16.5% of all workers in engineering roles in the UK. Closing this gender gap and encouraging more women and girls into engineering and manufacturing roles will be crucial in unlocking the full potential of the beverage packaging industry.

I studied engineering and have always been fascinated by the complex processes that enable products to be brought to market, as well as the people that make it happen. My colleagues in the manufacturing industry tell it like it is and challenge themselves to solve challenges each day, which is inspiring to be around. But more needs to be done to inspire other women and girls into the sector. By promoting gender equality and inclusivity in engineering, we can harness the diverse perspectives, experiences, and talents of both men and women, resulting in more innovative and creative solutions to today’s challenges.

With the welcome and growing desire to protect the environment, the legislative and regulatory context is changing for how packaging manufacturers do business. The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, with its emphasis on refill and reuse, has implications for our industry which we are responding to with new thinking. The strength of our team comes from what each person uniquely brings to the table, so companies should do more to invest in and encourage diverse talent for our sector.

The interest is there. At the turn of the decade, applications from women for engineering courses increased by 93.5%, nearly doubling the number from ten years ago. Yet, in the packaging sector, we are seeing more women represented in traditional HR and customer-facing roles, less so in technical, manufacturing and leadership roles. It’s exciting to be able to be in a position to solve challenging problems, work with fantastic and ambitious customers, and be in the room to drive forward sustainability commitments and actions. This includes increasing the global recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans, bottles, and cups, and ensuring that infinitely recyclable aluminium fulfils its potential in a truly circular economy, avoiding carbon emissions and protecting the earth’s natural resources.

The issue lies not with women being disengaged with manufacturing; it is women not having the same career opportunities, support, and representation to thrive in the industry. Manufacturers should be setting ambitious gender targets for all engineering roles and reach young women early so they can appreciate the opportunities a career in a sustainable business as an engineer can bring. This expands the available resources for design innovation, leading to improved beverage packaging solutions. It allows for more user-centred design approaches that consider diverse perspectives, leading to packaging innovations that are more intuitive, functional, and aesthetically appealing to a wider range of consumers.

To achieve these outcomes, it’s important to implement policies and initiatives that promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the manufacturing sector. This can include measures such as promoting equal opportunities, addressing gender biases, providing training and mentorship programmes, and creating supportive work environments that value and respect the contributions of all employees.

Our sector needs more engineers who can design the sustainable solutions that solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems. Increasingly more consumers are demanding products that are eco-friendly by design, for products to be more personalised, and for more choices in the size and shape of beverage packaging, ensuring there is a product for every occasion. Women will play an essential role in designing fully circular products and solutions that responds to this consumer demand.

By closing the gender gap in manufacturing, we can foster an environment that fuels future design innovations in beverage packaging, ensuring the industry remains dynamic, relevant, and responsive to the needs and preferences of diverse consumers.

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