Nov 1, 2023
In this exclusive interview, Better Together host Jan Bottiglieri interviews Maja Mejsner, division chair of TAPPI's Women in Industry (WIN) Division and director of SMM services for Valmet. Maja really is a “walking inspiration”—and at TAPPICon she discussed the vision she sees for the Women in Industry Division and how it can spur the pulp and paper industry toward a more innovative, diverse future.
Originally published in the TAPPI Ahead of the Curve newsletter.
This article is excerpted from the transcript of an exclusive interview conducted at TAPPICon 2022. The next Women's Summit will be held at Saturday, April 27, 2024 in conjunction with TAPPICon 2024, April 28 - May 1, 2024 in Cleveland, OH.
Better Together: I'm really excited to have been able to attend Women's Summit—the level of engagement you're getting within the division is terrific. Can you tell us a little about how the division got started?
Maja Mejsner: The journey started seven years ago. We then had just a small lunch as a group, saying that we do not see enough exposure of women in our industry, and we need to do something about it. That was like a starting point to say, all right, let's join forces; let's try to bring some solutions that might be of interest, not only for, for women, but for men too, to really drive the diversity in an open paper industry.
We started first as a committee, with a few small initiatives; now we grew (into a Division) with lots of activities going on during the year as well. It's this continuing programming that really interests me.
I think one misconception about the Women in Industry Division (WIN) is that you concentrate on issues like "My heels get caught in the grating!" but it is not like that at all. These are real issues that everyone faces.
That's correct. It's about diversity; we need to bring different perspectives to make our industry a better place. And of course, we want to make sure that especially young females are encouraged to think about ambitious careers in this industry. They can dare to become leaders and bring their talents and we can mix those talents together. And for us, it's so important that our male colleagues join us in that discussion. And as a team, we can just make this industry a better place.
There is such a groundswell of interest in the issue of diversity within our industry, as we're slowly beginning to see what a strength it is.
That's a good point. It's often brought up (in the pulp and paper industry) that we need to take care of newcomers and young professionals, because somebody needs to continue our job. Our next stage for WIN will be to bring more dialogue with young professionals and also with other industries so we can find also the inspiration for our own industry. We can do better to be active and dynamic.
You are with Valmet, a major global company that serves many industries. From that perspective, what other industries do you see as offering paper makers the most to learn from?
It's such a pleasure to work in an organization which is very diverse, with different cultures and perspectives. There are lots of initiatives going on within the company to look outside that, to bring in... different angles. I believe we can have more dialogue between our own sub-industries, because those initiatives can (bring us) closer to consumers. During the pandemic time, we had to listen more carefully to people who are buying our products—to have a look (at) different cultures that now part of our industry. To see what's going on in Europe, what's going on in China or the Asia Pacific region. For us as an industry, that would be great to have more of those interactions.
Yes! I'd also love to see a panel on how different sectors within our industry approach similar issues. As someone who is so involved in TAPPI, so involved in the industry and a frequent attendee at TAPPICon and other events, what are some of the most exciting things you're hearing talked about?
The best part... is the face-to-face interactions! You know, catching up with colleagues and really interacting. I think we are more creative that way; somehow, it's not comparable to remote Teams meetings or Zoom. It's such a value.
I think the TAPPI organization is really special, because somehow we've managed to bring volunteers to build and create this content. It's about a team effort. It's a win that I've got my colleagues with me. I'm not alone.
There's just such an energy that the volunteers bring as well as the knowledge. These are real professionals helping other real professionals and I do think there's a collaborative energy that just creates ideas... it's essential. May I ask, what is the most exciting thing you see ahead for the industry and how will the WIN division respond?
As industry, we overcame COVID; now because of the political situation, especially in Europe with the war in Ukraine, it's going to be challenging for us to maintain (our) progress. I think we'll do a good job, but we need to be really conscious about it.
For WIN, my dream is to grow in a way that we can bring more tools and more solutions to attract talent to our industry. I think we need to think about the future. Current circumstances are challenging, and we'll overcome it, but we can only do that with talented people. So let's do our best to create a very good brand for our industry, make people aware that we exist and that they can join us and help us.
To hear the full conversation with Maja Mejsner—and more engaging chats with other industry leaders—subscribe now to the Better Together podcast. We'd love to count you as a listener!