The network I developed throughout the years helped me navigate situations in my career and that has been truly invaluable. My goal is to continue to pay it forward, look for opportunities to network and mentor those who are growing in their career, regardless of their gender.
Courtney Jungjohann Deemer, Global Business Director for Powder Coatings is a 16-year PPG veteran. In this interview, Courtney takes us through the beginnings of her career and talks about the support and mentorship that are invaluable to taking opportunities and building a career that exceeds the “visible”, traditional career paths for women.
WPS Courtney, you have been at PPG for over 15 years now. Could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings?
Courtney Jungjohann Deemer I studied chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, but I knew early on that I wanted to go into technical sales. Fortunately, after I graduated, PPG offered me an entry-level sales position and I moved to Michigan to capitalize on the opportunity. A little over a year later, I was offered a promotion to run a multi-state territory from Kansas City, which I gratefully accepted. Although it was a little intimidating moving to several new cities early in my career, I am so glad I took the risk. I learned so much and met so many incredible people who shaped my future.
WPS Moving to a new city and taking on a leadership role so early in your career does sound quite daunting. This type of career path is not traditionally one that women tend to take. Who or what inspired you to take it?
CJD My father and uncle were in chemical sales when I was growing up, so I always had a familiarity with the industry. I knew I loved science, and my father and uncle enjoyed their careers and found success, so the path was pretty clear for me. I believe it is critical to expose young talent to different types of career paths. If I didn’t have exposure to this type of opportunity, I may have been drawn to more “visible” or traditional career paths. The more pathways we expose for our youth, the more opportunities we provide them with to customize their career path and find lasting happiness and success.
WPS It is wonderful that you had role models and guides so close to you. As you said, it is so important to expose young people, and especially young women to the opportunities the STEM world offers. When you started in this business 16 years ago, I imagine the gender landscape was considerably less diverse. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it has evolved since?
CJD Oh yes, the landscape has changed tremendously in the last 16 years. There were many times that I was the only woman in the room, especially when I was visiting customers in my sales territory. However, early in my career, I was fortunate to have a female sales director and female sales manager. It was really inspiring to have female leadership so early on, and more importantly, supportive female leadership. They took time out of their day to support me, and as I progress into leadership roles, it is extremely important to me to do the same for younger team members. Today, I am so happy to see how much the landscape has changed and how there is much stronger female representation in the industry. I am especially proud of my PPG powder team, which is predominately women.
The more pathways we expose for our youth, the more opportunities we provide them with to customize their career path and find lasting happiness and success.
WPS It must have been invaluable to get that kind of support from women already paving the way and leading by example. With experience and a leadership role that enables you to pay it forward, what advice would you give women in male-dominated fields?
CJD In general, I think women have a tendency to be less confident than men in the workplace, so I would encourage women to be bold and confident and to not be afraid to raise their hand. I have seen women shy away from jobs because they don’t feel they have enough experience, while in the same scenario, men go in with the utmost confidence despite having even less experience. If you don’t put yourself out there, you have already lost the opportunity. In addition to confidence, I feel being eager to learn and building a network of supporters was extremely beneficial to help me learn the industry. Finally, I think a thick skin definitely helps, within reason of course!
WPS Exactly. The impact of building a support network on a woman’s confidence and career decisions cannot be overstated and is one of the main goals of Women in Power Systems. You mentioned your first job at PPG and how important it was for you to have had the mentorship of your sales director and sales manager, both of whom were women. Could you tell us about your experience with mentorship and support from your male colleagues?
Just as diversity is incredibly important on a team, I think it is equally important in your network.
CJD I support the idea of formal mentorship, as I know a number of people who have benefited from it. However, building my network of people organically is what really worked for me. The network I developed throughout the years helped me navigate situations in my career and that has been truly invaluable. It has been crucial for me to have strong females to talk to about the challenges in life, especially work-life balance. However, I also have had men be great supporters of my career and great sounding boards for advice as well. Just as diversity is incredibly important on a team, I think it is equally important in your network. My goal is to continue to pay it forward, look for opportunities to network and mentor those who are growing in their career, regardless of their gender.
WPS Judging by the female representation in the company, the results of PPG’s support for diversity are already evident. In your opinion, how important is it to have strong female representation within companies in the power systems business?
CJD It is critical to build diversity within companies as it has been proven repeatedly that diverse teams produce better results. Diverse teams are going to bring a wider view of ideas and perspectives, which is needed to succeed in business.
WPS Nowadays, PPG has a lot of admirable and inspiring women like you taking the helm on many projects and departments. What was the instigator for PPG to start hiring more women and especially putting them in leading positions?
CJD It starts at the top. I credit our CEO, Michael McGarry, and our senior leadership team for being fervent supporters of building strong, diverse teams. I have been lucky that this is not a new agenda within PPG; diversity has been encouraged my entire career. I have also been fortunate to have leadership support my career and encourage my development, including taking roles that were a stretch for me and then being supportive as I tackled that learning curve. It is crucial for leadership to drive the diversity agenda, but also take a chance to stretch diverse talent and be a strong support mechanism as they grow in their career.
The gender landscape has changed tremendously in the last 16 years. Today, I am so happy to see much stronger female representation in the industry.
WPS You said how important it was for you to have strong women colleagues you could talk to about the challenges of work-life balance. We often see that people, and especially women who are ambitious and passionate about their careers tend to burn the candle at both ends, with the personal life sometimes falling by the wayside. Has this ever happened to you and what helps you keep the work-life balance?
CJD I have two young children at home (aged 4 and 7), so I recognize the pull a working mom feels between work and home. My family is the No. 1 priority in my life, and I hold very firm in this belief. I have sadly seen many before me struggle to make that balance work, men and women, and I have consciously made the effort to keep family a top priority. I volunteer at my kids’ school when I can, and my husband and I value taking our vacation days to spend quality, uninterrupted time as a family. That being said, I recognize there are sacrifices I will have to make from time to time, especially in a role that requires travel. So, I think it is important to realize there is no perfect balance, it will ebb and flow, but to consciously make time to be with the ones you love and be fully present (including putting your phone down!) when you are with them.
WPS I think everyone will be able to recognize a piece of themselves in this and will try to keep your advice in mind. Courtney, thank you so much for this interview, it has been truly inspirational. We wish you all the best in your career and hope to talk to you again someday.
CJD Thank you for having me.
Read 5th-grader Elena’s interview with Courtney: A Girl’s Perspective: PPG’s Women in Powder.
Find out more abut how PPG supports sustainability through diversity, equity and inclusion here.