On a typical work day Charlotte Caldwell embraces the hum of machinery, warmth of massive ovens and the smell of fresh rolls at King’s Hawaiian in Oakwood.
She starts her mornings by walking the lines and checking up on the company’s employees.
Despite manufacturing being a male-dominated field, spotting a woman out on the production floor is a common sight at King’s Hawaiian.
Caldwell was the first female production supervisor at the Oakwood location of King’s Hawaiian, which makes the original Hawaiian sweet rolls. She said she has never felt singled out on the job because of her gender. Even when she’s the only woman in a room, Caldwell feels confident that her input is valued.
“We have to understand that gender stereotypes can cloud what we think and how we react to people, but that’s not how it should be,” Caldwell said. “It’s whoever is best for the job, it’s your personal passions, your interests, your skills — that’s what should be the driving factor.”
With a background in managerial science and operations, and a love for food, Caldwell decided to get her foot in the door of manufacturing.
When she heard that the restaurant she worked for was catering a King’s Hawaiian event, Caldwell saw her window of opportunity.
She helped with the catering and asked the human resource manager to consider her as a potential employee at King’s Hawaiian.
She started as a production floorwoman and is now a supervisor. She has worked at the facility for nearly six years.
Her job consists of examining how the plant is running, checking up with shift workers about their concerns, having meetings with the operations teams and coaching employees.
When Caldwell joined King’s Hawaiian, she said the company’s production capacity surprised her .
“How much bread we put out there is mind boggling,” she said. “We bake 5,760 12-packs (of Hawaiian rolls) an hour.”
She said 75% of all of King’s Hawaiian’s production in the U.S. takes place in the Oakwood plant at 5425 Aloha Way.
A different avenue of manufacturing
Samantha Steele’s line of work at King’s Hawaiian is hands-on, but not in the way most expect. Instead of working with machinery, Steele puts all of her focus into worker’s health.
She started two years ago as an industrial athletic trainer at the plant, then just over a month ago was hired as an official King’s Hawaiian safety manager.
“When you’re a safety manager, your priorities are making sure that your people and company are safe,” Steele said. “With health care insurance costs now, my job is more needed. It shows how much King’s Hawaiian cares for their employees that they’re going to pay for someone just to take care of their aches and pains.”
When an employee packs bread for 12 hours, inevitably their body will become sore. Steele teaches them how to perform their tasks in a way that decreases their likelihood for discomfort.
“We want our people to go home just as happy and healthy as they came to work,” she said. “This is preventative care. It’s definitely a different avenue to get into manufacturing with, but I love it.”
Not her childhood dream
Growing up Sandra Imperial said because of her gender, she felt steered toward certain careers, like nursing and teaching. Until her early 20s, she never imagined taking on a role in manufacturing.
“Nobody went up to me and said, ‘You know what Sandra? You’re going to be great as a woman in manufacturing,’” Imperial said. “I would love for young women to understand that this is an option for them.”
Imperial likes to say that her job found her.
She needed a full-time job with insurance, and landed a position as an entry level packer for King’s Hawaiian. As the months went by, the work life started to grow on her.
Imperial climbed up the ladder at King’s Hawaiian, beginning with her entry-level position, transitioning into a dough divider operator and later gaining an apprenticeship.
At first, Imperial said she wasn’t going to apply for the apprenticeship role.
“I was thinking they’re going to pick a guy who has worked in maintenance,” she said. “I was very surprised when I passed the mechanical aptitude test and even more surprised after the interviews.”
She became the first apprentice at the Flowery Branch King’s Hawaiian. Through the apprenticeship, the company paid for her to go back to school and receive on-the-job training.
Imperial is now an industrial manufacturing technician with five years of experience under her belt.
Breaking the stereotype and empowering women
Steele, the company’s safety manager, said she never feels like an outsider in her position, until she leaves the confines of the plant.
Both manufacturing and safety are male-dominated occupations, she said.
“I was just in New Orleans for a safety conference,” Steele said. “I was going out into town and they (men) were like, ‘Oh, you’re here for a safety conference? You’re young and you’re female, that doesn’t look right.’ It’s interesting to see the perspective people have of it.”
Steele views working as a woman in a leadership manufacturing position the same as any other career field.
“As long as you can earn the respect of your colleagues and you can be confident, it doesn’t make a difference,” Steele said.
If Imperial could give one piece of advice to women pursuing a manufacturing role, she would tell them to “be yourself, question everything and don’t be afraid to fail.”
When Imperial took on her apprenticeship, she worked mostly with men and felt inclined to act like her coworkers.
“Toward the end of the apprenticeship, I found that my greatest attribute was being myself and bringing what I had to the table,” Imperial said. “I didn't have to try to fit in with that stereotype.”
Like many women at King’s Hawaiian, Imperial looks up to Caldwell. Although she never worked for Caldwell, Imperial said she felt inspired by her strength and determination as the only female supervisor on the floor.
“It’s important for us females to support each other,” Caldwell said. “It’s so easy for us to be competitive, but that’s not what we’re here for. We need to be supportive of each other and transcend those stereotypes.”