Charlotte Ashcraft, Manager, Packaging & Graphic Development, Just Born Quality Confections

Drawing on her own experiences, Charlotte Ashcraft reveals the crucial skill she believes has been instrumental in her career advancement: the ability to adapt and connect with people from all walks of life.

Charlotte Ashcraft

Tell us about your background and how you got into the packaging industry.

I first became interested in engineering in high school, where I took “Project Lead the Way courses.” These were introductory engineering classes which earned college credit through Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). After touring RIT, I fell in love with the school and decided to study electrical engineering there.

During my junior year of college, I was really struggling with my upper level electrical classes.  I’m such a visual and hands-on person [and] you can’t see electricity! I met with a career advisor at the school, explained my struggle, and she suggested I look into packaging science. I met with the packaging department chair a few days later, changed my major that same day, and never looked back.

What is the most rewarding part of your job today?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the results of my work throughout the entire packaging value chain. By collaborating with other stakeholders, I can ensure the packaging I develop will process through our manufacturing operation, protect the product during distribution, display well at retail stores, and deliver a high-quality product into the hands of a consumer. Working for a smaller company, I get to work on every aspect of packaging, and can make a difference. 

What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

Skepticism about my technical skills and stereotypes that undermine my credibility. Especially at the very beginning of my career, as a young female engineer I felt the need to prove myself to every new person I worked with. 

What are the unique opportunities for women in this industry?

Women have a lot to bring to the table and can help diversify perspectives in all roles throughout the industry. Diversified leadership can help to create a balance that is more inclusive, relatable, resilient, adaptable, and collaborative.  Diversified project teams can lead to more creative problem solving and innovation.

What do you think are some of the key factors that have contributed to your success in the industry?

The company I work for has invested in my career and helped me to advance my technical and leadership skills. By encouraging me to participate in industry boards and networks, I’ve been able to learn from peers and better understand what packaging teams at other companies are focused on. Additionally, accepting challenges that are outside of my comfort zone has helped me to grow and build confidence.     

What has been the most important skill you’ve developed as you advanced your career?

How to adapt and work with all different kinds of people, and how to form connections. The flexibility to change your communication style depending on who you’re working with is a crucial skill in any industry. Additionally, finding ways to connect with others to build up working relationships with coworkers and colleagues is so important.

What can the industry do better to support women and increase the number of women in leadership positions?

Promote mentorship, encourage networking, and provide leadership development programs specifically targeted towards women. Collectively, I think the the entire industry can benefit from challenging stereotypes to address unconscious biases. 

Has there been a woman in your life who has inspired or mentored you? Who was she and what did you learn from her?

My mom has always been my biggest supporter. I attribute my proactive and supportive working style to her, along with my communication skills. Also, my former boss Becchi, who mentored me both as an intern and when I returned to the company as a packaging engineer.  She taught me so much about the packaging industry and working as a professional in general.  I think the best thing I learned from her is to understand how your work affects the full value and supply chains. Knowing the person’s job before you and after you makes you a better team member.

What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in packaging?

Packaging is such a rewarding and fun career, and while it seems small, there are so many opportunities in the industry. Even if your interests change as you progress in your career, there are plenty of options to transition to different areas within the industry and diversify your skills.