The best trailblazers often are those who don't realize at the time that they are leading the way. What's important is the work they are doing, not that they happen to be the first of a certain race or gender to do so.
That's the case with Terry DeLapa, a sales manager for Alpha Technologies Inc. who, as of the start of this year, became the first female chair in the 106-year history of the ACS Rubber Division.
It may seem difficult to fathom that it took more than a century for a woman to serve in that capacity for the main technical organization in the rubber industry. When she was first elected as division secretary in 2010, starting the five-year path toward becoming chair, she didn't even believe it herself when Ed Miller, executive director of the Akron-based group, told her this was the case. She made them look it up and bring her proof.
But it wasn't that long ago that the rubber business easily could be referred to as a “good ol' boys network.” And while the number of females in leadership roles definitely has risen in recent years, it's still clearly a male-dominated industry.
DeLapa, herself, never planned a career in the rubber industry. Her father worked at B.F. Goodrich and often uprooted the family for the job, not a life she wanted for herself.
She started out as a teacher before taking a job selling copiers. Like many others, once she was in the rubber industry, she was there to stay.
It's also important that a trailblazer be a deserving candidate to break the barrier. DeLapa meets the mark here as well. She became active in the Rubber Division within months of landing at Harwick and has been involved ever since.
Her main goals for her one-year tenure as chair include getting the division to better use technology, setting up educational partnerships, and—most importantly—helping set the organization's strategic plan for the next five years.
Once her year is done, she said she will stay involved and help set the course for other women to follow in her place. But rightfully, she wants to be remembered for her accomplishments rather than her gender.
Just the way a true trailblazer would want it.