Left side advert image
Right side advert image
Super banner advert image
Subscribe to Print Monthly's RSS feed

Enter your email address here to sign up for our weekly newsletter

Need To Know

Women in Print

Although women have been involved in the printing industry for centuries, current numbers remain low. Harry Mottram investigates why this is the case, despite changing attitudes in the market

Article picture

Print shows: women are taking an increasing role in the printing industry, especially in roles such as sales

From Medieval Italy to 21st century board rooms

Only one in ten workers in the printing industry is a woman. It is a statistic which will not come as a surprise to many, but is a disappointment nevertheless, since females make up nearly 50 percent of the labour market, it means a large talent pool is being overlooked.

A substantial proportion of women in the business are employed in the finishing section of print plants, packing, stamping, collating, stitching and despatching, while another chunk of workers are involved in the administration, office support, and sales side. A few are involved in management and marketing, while only a tiny number actually work the big heavy metal print presses, although I have seen many operating A4 and A3 digital presses and a couple of women operating Heidelbergs in Germany.

This is surprising since women have been involved in the industry pretty much since the process was invented. As early as 1477 in Mantua, Italy, Estellina, the wife of Abraham Conat, published a book of Hebrew scriptures. Estellina liaised with the printers to ensure the book was pressed, trimmed, and collated correctly before publication.

Women in the 16th century

A century later, another female printer, publisher, and businesswoman was carving out a name for herself in the city of Constantinople, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Doña Reyna Mendes was the daughter of Doña Gracia Mendes, a Jewish business-woman and philanthropist who settled in Constantinople in 1553. Her mother had published numerous religious texts, but Doña Reyna was the first woman to own a press separately from her husband. She established a business in Belvedere, near Constantinople, and later another press in the Constantinople suburb of Kuru Cesme, acting as a true pioneer in what is now modern day Turkey.

By the following century, printing was becoming a major industry across Europe, with women playing their part in cities from London to Lemberg. In Holland, Judith Rosanes learnt the print business through her grandfather before setting up a print works in the Austrian empire in 1782 with 24 male workers. Now who said women have always only been on the fringes of the industry?

Women’s printing society

Moving to the 19th century, we must not miss out Emily Faithfull and the Victoria Press. The daughter of a vicar, Emily, took an interest in promoting rights for female workers setting up a society to represent them in the growing industrial British economy. She was inspired by a friend Bessie Parkes to train as a printer and typesetter in the middle of the century and she helped to establish the Victoria Press in London, which took on several teenage girls as compositors and to assist in printing several magazines.

In June 1862, Faithfull was appointed printer and publisher in ordinary to Queen Victoria and soon afterwards set up a new steam press in Farringdon Street in a firm that included the enlightened practices of profit-sharing, lunch breaks, a staff kitchen, housing, good light, and ventilation.

Two years later she was caught up in a sex scandal that centred on a divorce case in which she was involved. In those rather stuffy days, divorce cases were considered shocking and so she left for America for a while before returning to establish the Women's Printing Society.

O Factoid: In 1975 the Employment Protection Act made it illegal to sack a woman due to pregnancy. O

By the end of the 19th century, women’s rights were on the up with votes for women introduced following the First World War. A social revolution had begun with women taking an increasing role in sales, administration, design, and print finishing. Despite the introduction of laws that were to help ease their entry into the print industry including the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, and the 1975 Employment Protection Act which made it illegal to sack a woman due to pregnancy and introduced statutory maternity provision, the position of women in the print industry remains that of a minority.

Movers and shakers

Moving onto the present, the industry trade group PICON recently appointed Bettine Pellant as chief executive while this year’s Packaging Innovations exhibition at the NEC saw an all-female panel for one of Easyfair’s big debates at the trade show. Alison Church, event director at Easyfairs, chaired the discussion and was joined by Antoinette Devine, global pack-aging and materials consultant at SABMiller; Karen Graley, packaging and reprographics manager at Waitrose; Lynn Harris, digital account director at JKR, and Nancy Janes, WW graphics solutions business program director at HP. It was something of a breakthrough.

High flyer: Debbie Waldron-Hoines is consultant director of the EFIA and director of Avant Tout, a print solutions management business specialising in flexography

Today, there are a number of key figures such as Sue Blackwell, who is a partner at D Cole Labels in Essex, while Janet Brinton is a director of Ultrachem, manufacturer of UV inks and print chemistry products. Julia Gaudie is another high-profile woman involved in the industry with her firm the Print Quarter and Debbie Waldron-Hoines is consultant director of the EFIA and director of Avant Tout, a print solutions management business specialising in flexography. 

chemistry: Janet Brinton is the director of Ultrachem

Another woman who has broken the glass ceiling is Grace Sheil, who is based at a print shop in Stoke-on-Trent, while Prontaprint has Sara Jamison as chief executive offer, following spells as marketing director at Iceland Foods and brand communications director at Virgin Cosmetics Company.

Speaking as a woman

Lesley Graham of Wirralaco in Wirral said when she started in the print industry 30 years ago, she found it hard for her to be taken seriously: “I have memories of attending my first meeting with a company whose MIS software we had and being the only woman there out of 130 people who attended. I stopped attending local BPIF meetings very early on due to sexist comments made on more than one occasion at the meetings. Many women in printing were either part of a family owned business or were wives of print shop owners and therefore not taken seriously.”

So, are women discriminated against? Graham says: “Not now.  There are so many more women holding top positions that have gained the respect of most in the print industry based of their knowledge and ability to do their job.”

Women workers: traditionally there are many women in the finishing and collating part of the print business

Despite this improvement, Graham is still concerned over equal opportunities in the industry: “Women may get the promotion but do they get the offered the same salary as a man offered the same position? In some cases I fear not. Not wanting to sound sexist but I think some of the ‘old boys’ still view women as not being as good as men in print, but this has changed dramatically over the last ten years.”
Sexism and the glass ceiling

Julia Gaudia of the Print Quarter recalled how she started in the business: “As a fresh faced 19-year-old, I joined what was then a male dominated industry following a management training scheme by John Moores in retail. Due to our father’s success in print, he became self-employed with a printing franchise and that is how it began for me.

“Plus, I had the perk of working for my dad and having that guidance and years of experience in print taught to me. Rarely, at events, conferences and other print-related business meetings, were there any females unless they were in an admin role, YTS scheme or reception work. I used to love walking into a room and be able to talk shop with any gent and share the trials and tribulations of being a print business owner. Now, 32 years later, I personally enjoy the ups and even the downs be-cause it stimulates me to get more ups and keep our family business strong.

I personally enjoy the ups and even the downs because it stimulates me to get more ups and keep our family business strong

“I believe that women are very enterprising and I have many friends across other male dominated industries such as IT and construction. We naturally seek out opportunities in our work place and throughout our home life. In the 1960s and 70s women in print were virtually void and men dominated what was then a ‘stinky, inky’ business with dark rooms and chemicals, plate-makers, and solvents.

“All the print machine companies selling presses, the consumables and the finishing equipment were male. Women of today can negotiate their job roles, pay and flexible working hours. Gone are the days where a businessman assumed the females were admin clerks or receptionists; now many women are in board rooms and negotiate deals with customers.”

But does Gaudia think the industry is still institutionally sexist? She replies: “Maybe years ago, I would agree, you wouldn’t find many female press operators with inky fingers, female business owners or female sales negotiators and now it’s completely flipped because women want self-fulfilment. Combined with other skills, companies have accepted a mix of male and females in varying roles. We do like the hands on approach of us females and the natural passion and enthusiasm to see things from a different view.”

The future of the print industry for females needs some PR. Many of the qualifications and professional courses available today for training and enhancing the female skills further, are available across both male and female and these days if you walk into a room of print businesses, there is an increased number of females compared to the 80s and 90s, yet there is more required to continue this service which has become more of a technologically driven industry.

“Our role is still to assist a customer’s dilemma and often meeting ridiculous deadlines. Schools, colleges and universities need to adapt their mind set and understanding of this industry, and shape their courses to include printing social media and technology. Women play a massive part, there’s still the misconception that it’s not a ‘sexy’ industry to be in. Yet, females do have a good understanding of people and processes and can be found in many companies wearing the trousers.”

So what qualities do women bring to the workplace that gives them an advantage? Gaudia is quick with the answer: “Intuition and gut feeling, that’s how some of my decisions are made. We excel at multitasking, not just walking whilst carrying a mobile phone and a cup of coffee, but as an asset to a business. We’re optimistic with a glass half full mentality and seek out the best in something or situation. We’re passionate with ideas and ways to increase business and with the warmth of our personality can persuade others to see the benefit of the idea. We ask for help! We don’t struggle if there’s a colleague or likeminded person, we often share a problem to help resolve it.

 “We’ve got to carry on shining a ‘print Olympic’ torch and encourage younger generations to seek this as a profession. Especially as the need for social media and technology grows, the younger generation will enhance that side for business owners. Plus the link of marketing and print go hand in hand. Many students may seek a route in through graphic design or IT and that’s still great, because the whole holistic approach to print is required to be able to fully understand it and move it on plus to give the customer’s a reason to place their order with your company.”

Get in the girls

Terrye Teverson, managing director at KCS Trade Print in Cornwall, says there is now no bar for women to enter the industry especially with the advent of the digital print technology.

She explains: “With health and safety, things are much easier for women who want to enter the print industry. There’s less heavy lifting and manual work, which can put some women off, especially with the new digital presses. It may be partly cultural as women from Eastern Europe do not have the same concerns about operating a press. We’ve had two Polish women who don’t see it as a problem.

Poldark country: Terrye Teverson pictured with MP Dan Rogerson, says education and a change of attitudes is needed

“Another reason why we don’t get enough females into the workforce is because of experience. If an employer doesn’t see anything on their CV or something related then they are less likely to even give them an interview. I go into local schools to talk about careers to the students and stress the need to dispel the myth that girls can’t work in manufacturing in any capacity from the shop floor to the boardroom. It’s a question of changing attitudes and education.”

Your text here...
Print printer-friendly version Printable version Send to a friend Contact us

No comments found!  

Sign in:


or create your very own Print Monthly account  to join in with the conversation.

Top Right advert image
Top Right advert image

Poll Vote

Has the pandemic affected you?

Top Right advert image