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8 Energetic, Creative Paths of Women in Manufacturing Careers

December 7, 2021

A career in manufacturing as part of HEXO’s team of 300+ offers the flexibility, creativity, and the intellectual challenges that many women want in a rewarding vocation. With more and more barriers being recognized and eliminated, women have a greater opportunity than ever before to pursue the manufacturing career of their dreams.

“Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world.” Tian Wei, CCTV News

Diversity and inclusion strategies have resulted in a more energetic and creative variety of team members, ideas, and solutions for manufacturers today, and the high level of ingenuity is only increasing. HEXO is a leading manufacturer in the cannabis industry, with edibles, hash, and cannabis beverages.

Women in Leadership: Journey to Manufacturing

Just as in life no two women travel exactly the same path, the journey to a career in manufacturing is unique for each of these eight Hexo team members.

Here’s how they reached their cannabis manufacturing career at HEXO Corp and a look at their typical day.

Lori Bolander, Director of Packaging, trained as a Kinesiologist and spent ten years as a health and safety professional. “I was problem-solving on humans.” After moving to production, she became a global lean architect, then director of manufacturing.

After returning to her roots in health and safety for a couple of years, she started as manufacturing manager with another cannabis operation before becoming Director of Secondary Packaging at HEXO, on her way to Director of all Packaging.

“There is no typical day here! That’s the joy I find. You need to be very flexible and very open to what comes your way. With a startup, you don’t have systems and processes in place, so you are creating them and get to see your fingerprints on a lot of things.”

Lei Wang, Manufacturing Engineer, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, then a Masters in Systems and Control. With her science and computer science background, she quickly learned programming and how to control the production line, further expanding her knowledge from traditional to medical and food manufacturing.

Wang shares that her mechanical background and skills are perfect for engineering the HEXO manufacturing processes, such as waste reduction. She appreciates being part of a team where members come from different industries, bring different expertise, and work towards a common goal – helping the company work well and produce a high quality product.

“The HEXO facility is very different from the traditional factory you might imagine. People need to change their old assumption that it’s all physical labour. It’s not dusty, dirty or smoky. The cannabis industry is very clean. We have to meet Health Canada’s strict regulations and sanitation process, so our facility is very clean and safe.”

Krystel Benoit, Area Manager Packaging, started as a cashier at McDonald’s, working her way up to general manager, while studying bio pharmacology. “McDonalds is amazing for lines and operations. And training in packaging.”

Benoit started with Hexo in Masson, QC and moved to Belleville in 2020, looking for a career change. Her shifts at Hexo, with Fridays off, allow her to continue studying online for further professional development, a course in systems automation.

“My day starts at 5 am, ensuring all the scheduled lines are ready to go. I do huddles with my team to go over everything for the day. My director (female) comes in at 7:30 and we talk about how the day started. We’re working procedure revamping so I am reviewing our documentation and addressing anything that comes up. A day here is always changing – it’s exciting. I like that.”

“I don’t think anyone said they wanted to work here when they grow up, it wasn’t an option.” Symphony Llacuna

Bhagyashri Desai, Supply Planner, has a degree in Biotech. She got into the cannabis industry early on, having always been drawn to both plant science and supply chain. “Supply chain really sparked my interest.”

Desai has been in the industry for about two years now, like most other HEXO team members. She considers herself a pioneer, given that two years is a long history in such a young industry and at a new company.

“I like to go into the mother rooms and the nurseries. I like to just be around the plants. I look at potency levels. I like to be around the agriculture cultivation of the business. It’s the base and it’s fascinating. They’re our little plant babies. You have to give them positive energy to get good THC outputs. And it smells incredible, it’s meditative.”

Symphony Llacuna, Commercialization Manager: With her background in chemical engineering and food industry product development, she went straight to food manufacturing for 13 years. “When I joined Hexo, coming to a start up was fresh and cannabis became something new. They are playing in a similar or adjacent space as food. They needed people to help them scale it up and my skill set is exactly the role they were hiring for.”
Symphony Llacuna: “There are four of us on my edibles team. I was in food ingredient interaction. For example, if you put red pudding flavour into an oil, how does that change it? How do you transfer from one tub to the next without losing the flavour? How do you clean the equipment to get rid of the smell from the previous flavour? We’re working on new innovations now. R&D will do the prototyping, and it’s up to my team to figure out how to produce that product at scale. So it’s very fast paced. You are constantly changing on the fly. We test and see if it works and then make changes. Part of the excitement is that but also the challenges. The reproducibility can be hard. Commercialization means manufacturing on a large scale and still meeting all the specs R&D gives us.”

Kristen Richardson, Manager Warehouse, admits, “I stalked Hexo. I worked in this building for 20 years with Sears Canada in logistics, so I had my eye on who was taking over. When I found out who was coming here, I was like, I need to be a part of it, you tell me where I fit in. I reached out to my network and got connected. With my buying /purchasing and logistics background it was a good fit.”

Richardson is often in meetings from 8-5. Her team works in shifts, with some starting their day at 4 am and the other shift leaving around 9:30. Because HEXO is implementing so many new projects and processes, Richardson is on site to support all the shifts with their day and coordinate across teams.

“I try to look at the impact of my changes to all the various depts, so I get my nose into everyone’s world. To save a lot of stress and headache, we collaborate across the groups with proactive conversation. I challenge the team to challenge me on the process I have laid out for them. I ask them to tell me how they want this process to change. I want to know their opinion on what is holding them back and what helps keep consistency across the site.”

“Working at Hexo is exciting – instead of joining a company that’s been here for a hundred years, we’re creating it!” Lori Bolander

Mackenzie Credicott, Area Manager Packaging, is a biochemist who started in the cannabis field in 2017, before legalization. “I was in cancer research then in patient care. Then started as an educator in a clinic that did cannabis-based prescriptions. Then I got into working with war veterans…and I realized I wanted to go into production of cannabis.”

Since being hired at Hexo, she’s worked her way up to Production Manager, building on the skills from her science background. She works with the primary packaging group for dried flowers. “The 5 kg bins are full of premium buds, making the whole place smell like cannabis.”

“I work with manufacturing equipment that was not designed for the cannabis industry. We encounter problems – like hash build up on equipment that the engineers were not expecting – and have to troubleshoot and work through adjustments. I lead about ten different operator techs who have engineering, chemistry, and science backgrounds. We get to see unique challenges and figure out how to problem solve. There aren’t any answers on Google for this! We work together to figure it out.”

Amanda Belardi, Manager, Order Fulfillment, is not at all where she thought she would be. She completed her Honours English degree, but due to a school board hiring freeze, never went on to teaching like she’d planned. “I ended up working for Coca Cola for 8 years, in their call centre and became a supervisor and then went to distribution and then went to warehouse to get a better idea of business end to end.”

The opportunity to work at Hexo came up and it was the first time she was able to build something from the ground up. Bedardi notes that creating the systems, the rooms, and the processes has been such a unique experience.

“There is no such thing as a typical day here. There are structured meetings each day, but there are always new transactions coming in and we jump to respond or if there is an issue to solve we are ready to fix it. We are also implementing a new warehouse management system, integrating RF Scanners with our ERP system. It’s real work – not just talking about work.”

How QEDC Helps Women in Manufacturing

The Quinte Economic Development Commission (QEDC) provides information, connections, and resources for manufacturers in the Bay of Quinte food processing hub. QEDC supports the region’s businesses and entrepreneurs as well as the local workforce.

In 2020, QEDC published a manufacturing workforce and technology study, which is a valuable addition to the local manufacturing community.

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