Paving The Way For Women In Waste

A member of the National Association of Paperstock Women (NAPW) once attended an American Paper Institute conference in New York. A man who did not recognize her as a colleague walked up and asked her suggestively, "How much?" She responded without hesitation, "By the short or metric ton?"

A dozen women founded NAPW in January 1988 because they felt isolated at conventions populated almost exclusively by men. Networking with other women also provides an antidote to the aggressive, cut-throat paper industry culture. "It's a challenging business with many tough elements," said Pamela Retseck, president of Paper Chase, Quakertown, Pa.

Nancy Grant, a secondary fiber salesperson with Georgia-Pacific Corp. in Atlanta and an NAPW member, agrees. "When I started out in pulp, I had to deal with the mills, which were all male. The women in the business have had to learn to use their own integrity. And the men have had to learn that the women mean what they say and say what they mean. At first, I'd say I needed three rail cars to go to another mill and they just laughed at me."

"I think we have a very powerful group of women in this business," said Celia Monteleone Garrett of V. Monteleone & Co. Inc., a paper packing company in the Bronx, and a founding member and former president of NAPW. Garrett's father, Anthony Monteleone, carried a gun on his hip to show that he wasn't afraid of anybody. The business is so competitive that she heard competitors trying to woo her father's customers at his funeral six years ago.

In addition to having a group of peers with whom to swap stories, NAPW has afforded women a forum in which to network. "NAPW has helped women get through the tough times and has helped women overcome the old-boy network," said Garrett.

Retseck has also encountered sexism from men in the industry. "I've experienced two things," she said. "The first is hearing, 'May I speak to the owner?' The implication is that I couldn't possibly be the owner, being a woman and too young. The second thing is that I am kind of a novelty. The old waste paper men are intrigued, and I was let in some doors because I was different. Yeah, people call you sweetheart, but you've got to roll with it. What are you gonna do, sue every guy for sexual harassment?"

Both Retseck and Garrett started by working with their fathers and brothers. "In the packing industry, the lion's share of women who are relatively successful have some family relationship in the business and that's how most of them on the executive level were able to get there," said JoAnn Hines, executive director of Women in Packaging. "The reason these organizations exist is to answer the question, 'How does a woman without family connections move up to the top of the field?'"

For more information about these organizations, call Marian Keilson, National Association of Paperstock Women, (212) 988-7800; JoAnn Hines, Women in Packaging, (404) 924-3563; Tracy Straka, National Alliance of Women in Waste, (201) 633-7900; or Beth Janoff, National Association of Women and Minority Environmental Professionals, (202) 737-1212.