Thriving in the field
Local women break the mold in specialty paper
For the Gazette
STEVENS POINT – Three local women are breaking the mold in the specialty paper industry.
As of 2021, about 37,500 women work in the pulp and paper industry, which is about 20% of the total industry workforce.
Although underrepresented, women in the pulp and paper industry are making an impact, changing the face of the industry and opening the door for others.
Of these 37,000 professionals, many work in specialty paper.
From packaging that keeps a favorite snack fresh to the pages of a beloved book, specialty paper can be found everywhere.
Kristi Cain, vice president of human resources, said that Pixelle Specialty Solutions has intentionally cultivated a team-oriented culture that “helps professionals of all genders feel empowered, supported and valued so they can thrive.”
“At Pixelle, everyone’s voice matters. By increasing the diversity in our mills, we gain a wider range of perspectives that lead to greater innovation,” Cain stated. “The women who hold many positions throughout our mills, including supervisor roles, are essential to our continued success. And we must remain committed to diversifying our industry by empowering women to share their unique voices and contributions.”
Pixelle recently recognized three women employed at their Stevens Point mill who have broke the mold, while making a difference in the workplace.
Jessica Clements is the mill improvement process manager at the Stevens Point mill and has worked there for 23 years.
Clements is responsible for leading projects that contribute to the continuous optimization of manufacturing processes.
The logical, concrete nature of math and science drew her to engineering, and after college, she “fell in love with the excitement and dynamics of the paper industry.”
She looks at key performance indicators, such as productivity, consumption rates and energy, across the mill’s different production areas, finding opportunities to optimize processes and production.
“Her success is driven by her relentless pursuit of results, and she enjoys hands-on processes, as well as getting out on the floor to interact with operations crews around the mill,” Cain stated.
Clements said she first noticed how few women were in her field in college, and later that the crews she was managing were filled with men.
The advice she gives to young women who want to enter the manufacturing field is to be” confident in their skills and abilities — if they have the aptitude and desire to pursue a career, go for it.”
She has two daughters and feels that the work she does shows them that they can pursue any career that they want.
Samantha Hornik is the environmental supervisor at the mill, where she oversees a team that runs the Stevens Point mill wastewater treatment facility.
Hornik’s passion for natural resources began in the waters of her childhood.
She grew up outdoors, ice and boat fishing, which led her to earn an environmental degree in water resources and soil science management from the UW-Stevens Point.
While she knew she wanted to do something in the natural resource field, specifically with water, she wasn’t sure which direction she wanted to go.
When she saw that the Stevens Point mill was hiring a water treatment supervisor, she applied.
In her role, Hornik manages the mill’s chemical approval process, compiles reports to ensure the mill stays in compliance with their Department of Natural Resources permits and oversees any waste the mill generates.
She is proud of the environmental efforts Pixelle takes and “does the best she can for her community by helping to minimize the mill’s impact on the land.”
Hornik knows how hard it can be to step into the industry, since there aren’t many women.
The advice she has for women entering the field is to “not be afraid — confidence is key.”
As more women join the field, she hopes that people will see that it’s not uncommon for women to hold critical positions and make a difference.
Brittany Spencer never planned to work in paper, but after she took a job at a local mill just out of college, she loved the work and atmosphere.
As the paper machine senior production engineer at the Pixelle Stevens Point mill, Spencer is a second-generation paper worker.
Her father was a rewind operator at another mill, and she often tinkered with her dad in his shop when she was young.
That, combined with her love of math and science, led her to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at the UW-Madison and start her career in the paper industry.
At Pixelle, Brittany loves the “variety and the collaborative atmosphere — everyone helps one another.”
Some days she’s crunching data, and others she’s working with teams to optimize operations across the floor.
She attributes much of her success to genuinely listening to the people she works with and helping them put their ideas into action.
Most of the people she works with are men, who, she says, “listen to her in return and take her contributions seriously.”
Although she was intimidated when she first walked into a conference room and recognized she was the only woman there, she quickly built confidence.
The advice she’d give to women entering manufacturing is to “not be intimidated, but, if you are, don’t back down. Follow your dreams.”
She believes that to motivate more women to pursue manufacturing careers, it’s important that they see other women thriving in the field.