When Katrien De Keukeleere applied to Eastman in 2017, she knew she was qualified to work in manufacturing as a chemist. She had a doctorate in chemistry and was excited about the role and the company. She also knew the manufacturing industry was predominantly male.

At Eastman, however, she felt accepted from the beginning and respected based on her qualifications.

De Keukeleere is now a production manager at Eastman’s Ghent South site in Belgium. She’s responsible for three production lines that create Eastman Saflex™ advanced interlayers, which enhance glass safety, security and more. She brings a unique perspective to her team with experience in organic and physical chemistry research, and she’s used her skills since her first role at Eastman in the engineering department.

While De Keukeleere has never personally felt that being a woman in manufacturing — particularly in a leadership role — was an oddity at Eastman, the materials industry is still predominantly male. Eastman is striving to increase the number of women in operations and leadership roles; the company’s largest manufacturing site is led by a woman, Michelle Caveness.

Now that De Keukeleere is on the other side of the application process, she sees fewer women than men apply for manufacturing operator roles. She believes there are several reasons why women go into manufacturing less often, including their education preferences, societal norms and balancing shift work with personal or family life.

De Keukeleere also thinks many women in every industry may be hesitant to apply for new roles because they think they won’t check every box, even when they have the experience and training.

"It’s not always someone else who’s putting the weight on our shoulders,” she said. “Sometimes we do it ourselves because of our upbringing and what we’re used to. But the world is changing, and we want to empower women to seek roles in manufacturing, leadership or any other space that men have traditionally held. Even though a small part of you might be hesitant, you just need to go for it and be confident in yourself. If you don’t apply, you’ll never know.”

De Keukeleere is an example of that at Eastman and at home.

“I have two daughters, so I hope I can make them confident women who know what they want and aren’t scared to do it,” she said.

Katrien with her husband and two young daughters.