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What If More Women Understood the Rewards of Non-Traditional Professions

By Nancy Gleason

When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, “Oh, I sell high speed adhesive dispensing machines, metal expansion joints and electrical conduit.” They typically ask me to repeat that. If they ask my husband, he says, I really don’t know, but she makes good money and really likes her job. This is the same guy whose eyes glass over when I get into the specifics of glue dispensing, adhesive viscosities and gear pumps.

Most of my career has been spent working for large industrial behemoths (Atlantic Richfield and Nordson Corporation) in their outside sales organizations. My sales calls have taken me into the bowels of paper mills, aircraft engine plants, oil refineries, cranberry processing facilities, catheter manufacturers, steel mills, automotive makers and even breweries, just to name a few.

I started my career as an Industrial Sales Representative with oil giant Atlantic Richfield. My first sales territory was west and north Texas, from Dallas to El Paso up to Borger. Being from Rhode Island, this was a true eye opener. In retrospect, I know my bosses in Los Angeles transferred me to Texas, as part of their plan just to see if I was sturdy enough to handle what had always been a man’s job. It turns out I was. For the next 10 years, I was promoted every year and eventually ended up back at headquarters in an Executive Sales Management position.

Today, I work for Nordson Corporation and as always in my industrial sales career, I earn a good salary, travel internationally, take home a decent bonus every year, have excellent benefits, a somewhat flexible work schedule, a clear career path and I enjoy what I do. However, even after 25 years of doing this, I am still one of very few women at our annual sales meetings.

If more women explored positions in fields such as mine, they would reap the rewards that men have for years, and could use them as a spring board to upper management. Most companies in this space require their leaders to have some outside sales experience. Today, few women are at the top levels of manufacturing companies only because they do not have the outside sales experience required. Outside sales experience helps women have the vision to lead and to have a broad perspective on your customers and your competition. Whether it is at companies such as GE Lighting, Parker Hannifin or even my own Nordson Corporation, the executive management at large industrial giants typically have a background in outside sales. Outside sales experience can be very lucrative. An executive VP at my current employer, who started in outside sales, now makes $400 thousand per year and just cashed in $2 million worth of stock options.

Even if you are not interested in pursuing upper management, these outside industrial sales jobs are better than most in terms of salary, flexibility (most positions are home offices covering a geographical territory), stability, benefits, travel and socialization. A majority of the men that I have known and worked with over the years are able to support a family and a great lifestyle from a simple outside industrial sales job.

Few women explore these opportunities because they are either not aware of them or this is perceived as not very glamorous. Sometimes I even think the men are keeping these positions secret because they know that once women find out about them, they’ll go for it and the women will work harder and smarter. Take my word for it; these are great jobs with a future.

So if you are a woman with a college education looking to secure a good, well paying, challenging job, try thinking outside the box. Be prepared to work hard, learn an unbelievable amount about how things are made, get a little dirty and thoroughly enjoy your job.

For additional resources on finding outside sales positions such as these visit Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, a trade organization in manufacture packaging, at

Nancy Gleason is manager of Nordson Corporation’s Life Sciences Group. Nordson Corporation is the world’s leading manufacturer of systems that apply adhesives, sealings and coatings during manufacturing operations.