Anoosheh Oskouian says she found her calling to do great things at the age of 14 while growing up in Tehran, Iran. With the support of her parents, Oskouian eventually moved to the United States, earning a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado, where she was one of just a few women pursuing a career in that field.
Her career eventually took her to Ship & Shore Sheet Metal, where Oskouian and John Von Bargen co-founded Ship & Shore Environmental, Inc. in California in the fall of 2000. Von Bargen, whom Oskouian calls one of her mentors, currently serves as vice president of engineering for the company that is an associate member of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA).
In our July/August edition of FlexPack VOICE® print edition, we interview two women who lead companies that are flexible packaging converters and that are FPA members, Madeleine Robinson, CEO and owner of LPS Industries, LLC, and Dhuanne Dodrill, CEO of PAXXUS, Inc.
We also chatted with an associate member of FPA, Kathy Bolhous, chair and CEO of Charter Next Generation (CNG). CNG and Ship & Shore are two of many companies that are associate FPA members in fields offering support to converters.
In this online report, we talk to Oskouian about her career, challenges, and advice for women thinking about entering a technical field. “A woman should trust in her skills and know her material, and if you are able to talk the talk and walk the walk, you will be able to break any barriers fairly quickly after the meeting starts,” she says in her official profile provided to FlexPack VOICE® when answering the following questions.
FlexPack VOICE®: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
Anoosheh Oskouian: As president and CEO of Ship & Shore Environmental, Inc., I direct the corporate strategy for marketing and product development with my team of sales engineers, design engineers, project managers, fabricators, field service technicians, and other support staff to design, fabricate, install, and commission state-of-the-art air pollution abatement technologies.
FPV: How does your company continue to interact with the flexible packaging industry?
AO: For over 22 years, the company has custom-designed, engineered, manufactured, and commissioned air pollution control equipment for clients in the flexographic printing and packaging industry. Providing customized solutions to reduce and control emissions from these operations involves a collaborative process of evaluating the specific needs of each client to ensure optimal performance and compliance with local and national air quality regulations. The goal of the firm is to assist the industry in minimizing environmental impact while improving overall operational efficiency and reducing costs associated with air pollution control.
Another thing that sets us apart is our familiarity with all press manufacturers, laminators, and any solvent-related processes. We not only provide custom air pollution control systems such as RTOs, but we also provide VOC collection systems and press recirculations. All of these capabilities allow us to carefully examine each flexographic printing and packaging process to develop the most suitable solution for each client.
FPV: How does Ship & Shore promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)? What seems to work and what hasn’t worked with DEI? Any advice for companies developing DEI programs?
AO: To promote DEI, we focus on creating a culture of inclusion, establishing diversity metrics and goals, providing diversity training for employees, implementing inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, supporting employee resource groups, and taking a stand on social justice issues. Increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in leadership positions is one way we try to stay accountable for these goals. Many of the leadership roles within the company are held by women, as well as people of different races, ethnicities, and ages. By providing leadership development and mentorship opportunities, we are able to support work-life balance and flexibility and create opportunities for individuals who want to create a better environment for generations to come. Another way is by promoting and encouraging growth from within the company, with training and mentorship provided.
FPV: What advice would you give other women who might want to get into either your industry or flexible packaging, either at the start of a career or mid-career?
AO: While the industry has traditionally been male-dominated, many women are making significant contributions and succeeding in this field. Here are some tips for navigating the industry as a woman:
- Build a strong network: Attend industry events; join professional organizations; and seek out opportunities to connect with other women in the field.
- Develop your skills: Look for opportunities to learn from experts; attend training sessions and conferences; and take on new challenges. Building your expertise will not only help you succeed in your current role but also position you for career advancement.
- Be confident: Confidence is key when it comes to succeeding in any industry. Believe in your abilities, speak up when you have ideas, and be willing to take risks. Don’t let anyone else’s perceptions of you or your abilities hold you back.
- Find a mentor: Look for someone who has experience in the field and who can provide guidance and support as you navigate the industry.
- And speak up about issues of diversity and inclusion: As a woman in the industry, you may encounter issues related to diversity and inclusion. It’s important to speak up about these issues and advocate for change. Encourage your employer to create a more inclusive workplace and seek out opportunities to promote diversity in the industry.
Overall, the flexible packaging industry can be a challenging but rewarding field for women. By building a strong network, developing your skills, being confident, finding a mentor, and speaking up about issues of diversity and inclusion, you can succeed and thrive in this exciting industry.
FPV: In a previous interview with FlexPack VOICE®, you mentioned that John Von Bargen had been one of your mentors when starting at Ship & Shore. Anything you would like to say about that mentor relationship and how it worked? Some of those insights might be of interest to readers who are developing their own mentor connections.
AO: John and I have known and worked together for a long time. Meeting him early on in my career is part of what led me on the environmental path rather than continuing on the path of chemical and process engineering. One of the most important things that he has taught me is the importance of being proactive and taking initiative. Especially as a woman, back in those days, many people did not even take me seriously. But John pushed me to assume the role of president and CEO of the company we co-founded together. His advice gave me the confidence to take bold steps and make important decisions that ultimately helped me grow the business. He also emphasized the value of building strong connections with others in the industry, both for personal and professional growth. He encouraged me to attend industry events and conferences, connect with thought leaders and influencers, and always be open to learning from others. A good mentor relationship involves mutual trust, respect, and a willingness to learn and grow together. It’s important to find someone who shares your values and vision and who can provide honest feedback and constructive criticism to help you improve and achieve your goals.
FPV: Does your company have a formal mentorship program?
AO: Yes, for years we have provided a formal mentorship program, for both high school students and college students. This program includes engineering, sales, and marketing focuses, and we are grateful to be able to provide guidance, support, and opportunities for growth. We see this as a way to help shape the future of the industry and create a more diverse and talented workforce, by being able to lead kids who are interested in cleaning the air we all breathe and having a positive impact on the environment for generations to come.
FPV: What could industries, in general, be doing more to attract women?
AO: Address unconscious biases in the recruitment process, including in job postings, hiring practices, and promotion decisions. Offer flexible work arrangements. Create inclusive policies. Increase the visibility of women in leadership. Provide career development opportunities. Foster an inclusive culture.
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE®.