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Going Beyond the ‘Good Old Boys’


By Cynthia O'Malley

Where are the women in coatings, and why aren’t there more of them?

A 2011 member survey by SSPC sought to answer these questions. The goal was to directly assess the state of women in the coatings industry at that time.

Experience and Roles

The survey drew 119 responses, 34 from men and 85 from women. Of the total:

  • 52 percent had 16 or more years of industry experience;
  • 13 percent had 11 to 15 years;
  • 12 percent had six to 10 years; and
  • 23 percent five or fewer years of experience.
Women in Coatings
KTA-Tator Inc.

Lack of support from partner or spouse was the most frequently cited personal obstacle to women advancing in a coatings career.

The women's roles in the industry varied widely.

About 15 percent of all survey respondents (men and women) were in sales, quality assurance and publishing. The largest classification was management, which included 59 percent of the women and 63 percent of men.

The greatest discrepancy within the management sector was associated with executive management titles. The survey revealed that women, more than men, had executive management responsibilities without the title to match.

In addition, 26 percent of women classified their positions as technical compared to 19 percent of the men.

Obstacles and Challenges

Why are women still in the minority in the industry? According to respondents, the perceived obstacles included:

  • Unequal job opportunities;
  • Pay disparity;
  • Male-dominated industry associations; and
  • Lack of respect for industry contributions.

In addition, in their personal lives, women most frequently cited a lack of support from a partner or spouse as impeding their coating career.

Turning it Around

The coatings industry could attract and keep more women with greater use of mentoring, respondents said.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) said they would benefit professionally from having a mentor in their career.

Seventy-six individual comments were submitted on the benefits of a mentor: networking, industry insight, objective guidance, encouragement, support, and interactive education.

Pluses and Minuses

Like all groups, women bring strengths and weaknesses to the industry, the group said. In general, the respondents cited these strengths and skills of women:

  • Commitment to projects;
  • Integrity;
  • Flexible and adaptable attitudes;
  • Passion; and
  • Intuitive vision.

Weaknesses cited by the group included:

  • Communication style differences;
  • Power struggles;
  • Lack of networking; and
  • Lack of assertiveness.

Paths to Progress

There are ways for women to gain traction and numbers in the industry, respondents said. They suggested:

  • Industry involvement;
  • Networking;
  • Mentoring programs;
  • Advocacy (affecting the changes desired); and
  • Leadership.
Alison Kaelin and Lana Ponsonby
Technology Publishing Company

Most respondents said they would benefit from an industry mentor. Lana Ponsonby (left) and Alison Kaelin, recipients of SSPC's first Women in Coatings Impact Award, are both industry role models.

Perceived threats to those pathways included:

  • “Good Old Boys Club” mentality;
  • Stereotyping of gender traits;
  • Exploitation of misconceptions; and
  • Society and media misrepresentation of professional women.

Each of the cited strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats were discussed and vetted.

New Purpose and Goals

The result was a new core purpose for a new “Women in Coatings” group:

To provide an inclusive network, promote equal opportunities for genders, and effect a cultural change in the industry that supports leadership and recognizes contributions from both genders that benefit the coatings industry.

The Women in Coatings group has established two strategic goals for the development of programs:

  • Facilitating a culture shift that values and supports innovation and acceptance of ideas challenging the “Good Old Boys” mentality; and
  • Promoting female leadership in the industry so that contributions and coatings expertise are equally recognized by industry associations and organizations.

Next: The 4 Step Plan


Cynthia O'Malley

Cindy O’Malley is the manager of consulting and laboratory services at KTA-Tator Inc. and Co-Chair of SSPC’s Women in Coatings Program. During her 19 years with KTA, Cindy has been active in several industry organizations. She is an SSPC Certified Protective Coatings Specialist, a member of ASTM International, and the current president of the Pittsburgh Society for Coatings Technology (PSCT). Her industry honors include SSPC’s 2013 Presidents’ Lecture Series Award. Contact Cindy.



Tagged categories: Cynthia L. O'Malley; KTA-Tator; Program/Project Management; Protective Coating Specialist (PCS); SSPC; Business matters; Industry surveys; Managers; Networking; Personnel; Productivity; Quality control; SSPC 2014

Comment from Alison Kaelin, (6/12/2014, 6:49 PM)

Excellent observations, Cindy. Keep up the good work until that glass ceiling is shattered for all of us and we evaluate by qualifications vs. gender.

Comment from Will Fultz, (6/19/2014, 9:22 AM)

I think this conversation needs to go a little deeper than just gender alone. The workforce involved with protective coatings is quite "aged" to say the least. It is, for the most part, still overwhelmingly dominated by baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964). It is also amazing how many pre-baby boomers (born prior to 1946) are still working as well. While these individuals have done a tremendous job in advancing our industry, little work has been done in grooming Generation X (born 1965 to 1982) and Millennials (born 1983 to 2004) to step up to take their place. The fact is, younger people who have any sort of experience at all will advance rapidly as baby boomers start to retire in droves in the coming years. There is simply no "bench" or minor league system for the industry to go in order to fill roster spots. Our industry is unfortunately getting ready to experience a massive brain drain. Anyone who puts in the work, regardless of your gender or anything else, will have a massive amount of opportunity for advancement.

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