The manufacturing industry has long been dominated by males, however as work demographics begin to change; woman have been increasingly taking on various roles. In the New York town of Oakwood, one company is at the forefront of promoting equality on the production floor. If the name King’s Hawaiian sounds familiar, that’s because they are responsible for making the delicious sweet rolls found in bakery departments of supermarkets across the country.
The Gainesville Times recently interviewed a few women who work at the plant, one of them being Charlotte Caldwell. Caldwell became the first female production supervisor at this location which helps supply the rolls in the surrounding areas. She mentioned how she starts off her work day by walking down the production line and checking-in with employees. Her experience in operations and passion for food made her the perfect person for this role. Caldwell is looking to challenge the gender stereotypes that are associated with manufacturing. She mentioned to the Gainesville Times, “We have to understand that gender stereotypes can cloud what we think and how we react to people, but that’s not how it should be.”
Caldwell began her career at King’s Hawaiian as a catering helper. After talking with the HR manager about her interests in the company; she became a production floor-woman. Soon after, she was promoted to the supervisor position. Her role consists of ensuring the needs of her employees are being met and meeting with the operations teams. Logistics is everything as the factory is able to produce nearly 70,000 rolls an hour.
In a different part of the factory, Samantha Steele oversees the overall safety and well-being of workers. She began her career at the company as a industrial athletic trainer, and then became a safety manager. Steele focuses on ways for employees on the production floor to reduce aches and pains associated with standing/moving for long periods of time. She wants to make sure employees go home as healthy and happy as they came to work. While Steele acknowledges this is a unique way to get into the manufacturing sector, she loves her job and being able to contribute to employee’s health.
On the production floor, Sandra Imperial reflects on her manufacturing career path. Growing up, she felt pressured to go into roles such as nursing or teaching. However, it wasn’t until her 20’s that Imperial realized her passion was in manufacturing. She started work at King’s Hawaiian as an entry-level packer and then transitioned into a dough divider operator. After gaining an apprenticeship, the company paid for her to go back to school and get on-the-job training. Today, Imperial is an industrial manufacturing technician with over five years of experience.
These three women represent a small fraction of the factory’s employees. However, their impact in the workplace has encouraged people from all over to pursue a career because of their abilities and passions not because of biased stereotypes that limit people’s growth. While gender inequality in the workplace is still being challenged, success stories like these continue to prove the benefits of ensuring everyone gets an equal chance at work.
The Hudson Valley Manufacturing Workforce Center recently received a grant from the Rowley Family Fund for Women and Children to help encourage women and girls throughout the Hudson Valley to pursue a career in manufacturing. To keep manufacturing alive and thriving throughout the region we must inspire and motivate women to enter the field. The Hudson Valley Manufacturing Workforce Center will use the grant money to create videos targeting the young women of the tri-county region in classroom presentations and on social media. These videos will spotlight women in manufacturing at all levels from apprentices to engineers and showcase the many opportunities for success available throughout the region.