As the traditionally male-dominated chemical industry becomes ever more inclusive, women in leadership roles are joining forces to create camaraderie, mentorship and opportunities for professional and personal growth.
For Renee Havrilla, the chemical industry is home.
A chemist by training, Havrilla has spent over 30 years in the industry and today runs a global division for Westlake Chemical Corporation as VP of Compounds. Westlake produces rigid and flexible vinyl compounds for the automotive, healthcare, consumer, and the building and construction industries. However, when she first joined the industry in the early 1990s, there were few women to count in the executive ranks. As she made her way up the ladder over the next couple of decades, she realized one thing quickly: Women could be more successful if they supported each other.
At Westlake, one of the first things she noticed was that there wasn’t a forum for women to interact with each other. So, in the fall of 2018, she decided to invite all of the women in leadership at the Houston, Texas campus to join her for an informal meet and greet. Women of Westlake (WoW) soon morphed into peer-to-peer coaching, informal mentorships, and the mission to create opportunities for the women of Westlake to strengthen business relationships, grow professionally and personally, and build successful careers at Westlake.
“The WoW affinity group allows us to come together, learn from each other, and create space within the industry,” Havrilla says.
Today, the group has roughly 50 members and conducts monthly meetings — with a pre-decided agenda, a mix of TED talks or guest speakers, and always some time for open floor. Despite the virtual component, the group maintains its intimacy with many of the women reaching out to each other for advice and camaraderie on a regular basis.
Havrilla’s colleague, Julie Hildebrand — a chemical engineer with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and a business manager at the Houston office — agrees: “Westlake has done a great job of recognizing that they could do more to build upon diversity as an asset. WoW has elevated the platform to support professional growth for women in the organization,” she says.
So much so, that there are now a growing number of women-led groups in process across Westlake. And that’s invaluable.