International Paper Leader Honored in 10th Annual STEP Ahead Awards Recognizing Women in Manufacturing

International Paper Leader Honored in 10th Annual STEP Ahead Awards Recognizing Women in Manufacturing

The Manufacturing Institute Will Honor Sharon Ryan, senior vice president, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at International Paper

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022 - 8:00am

MEMPHIS, Tenn., March 2, 2022 /3BL Media/ - The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—announced it will award Sharon Ryan, International Paper senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, with the Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead Award. The STEP Ahead Awards honor women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers and represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite.

Sharon Ryan is being recognized by the Manufacturing Institute for her leadership spanning more than 30 years. Throughout her career, Sharon has supported efforts to uplift women in her company and her community through her work at International Paper. Beginning her career in 1988 as an attorney in the Land and Timber/Forest Products Division of the company, Sharon advanced to leadership roles and was promoted to her current position as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary in 2011. Through her work, she leads a global team of lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, customs and trade compliance professionals, and other legal support staff who ensure the company works safely, ethically and in compliance with the law.

“Leaders like Sharon are what make International Paper – and the manufacturing industry as a whole – a great career path for others. She demonstrates true leadership that extends beyond her role as general counsel to supporting women in the industry and providing outreach in our communities,” said International Paper Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Sutton. “I am proud of what Sharon has accomplished and honored to have her on our leadership team.”

Understanding the value of diversity in leadership, Sharon participates in numerous efforts to increase inclusion and representation at International Paper. For example, she worked with CEO Mark Sutton to diversify the company’s board of directors to increase minority and female representation. She is a sponsor of Women in IP, one of the company’s four employee networking circles that enable the sharing of backgrounds and experiences to create a more inclusive workplace.

Sharon is also active in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for Equal Justice Works, and the Executive Committee of the Association of General Counsel. The Tennessee Supreme Court appointed her to the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission from 2011 to 2020. Sharon was also instrumental in launching the International Paper Pro Bono Committee, aiding those in underserved communities with expungement of criminal records, voter rights restoration and driver’s license reinstatement.

“The 2022 STEP Ahead Honorees and Emerging Leader awardees are excellent representatives of the exciting opportunities available in manufacturing,” said Denise Rutherford, 2022 STEP Ahead chair. “These remarkable women and the leadership they show help inspire next generation of female leaders to consider careers in manufacturing.”

“The STEP Ahead Awards are central to the industry’s efforts to recognize and empower women,” said MI President Carolyn Lee. “Our Honorees and Emerging Leaders serve as role models and have their own multiplier effect on the number of women in the workforce, paying it forward to help others find their way into a successful, rewarding career in modern manufacturing. After 10 years of STEP Ahead Awards, we’ve honored more than 1,100 women leaders in manufacturing, who in turn have impacted hundreds of thousands of individuals through mentoring and volunteer work. We’re so proud of all these women, and we can’t wait to see what STEP and its Honorees and Emerging Leaders will accomplish in the next 10 years.”

The STEP Women’s Initiative is the nation’s marquee program to close the gender gap in manufacturing. STEP works to foster a 21st-century manufacturing workforce by empowering and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership, as well as by motivating alumnae to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation. The STEP Ahead Awards honor exceptional women in manufacturing and motivate them to mentor the next generation through an annual awards gala and associated leadership training program. The stories of these women and the leadership they show will help inspire next-generation female leaders in manufacturing and support current female talent within the industry. In the program’s first five years, STEP Ahead Award winners impacted more than 300,000 individuals—from peers in the industry to school-age children.

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers continues to be the growing workforce crisis—the shortage of skilled talent to fill open positions. Manufacturers can close the skills gap by 50% simply by bringing 10% more women into the industry. Women account for about half of the U.S. labor force but represent less than one-third of the manufacturing workforce. STEP Ahead empowers and inspires women in the manufacturing industry. The goal is to build networks for women to have support in their industry and to elevate the role models who can motivate and mentor the next generation.

On April 28, the MI will recognize 130 recipients of the STEP Ahead Awards in Washington, D.C. The STEP Ahead Awards program will highlight each Honoree and Emerging Leader’s story, including their leadership and accomplishments in manufacturing.


About International Paper

International Paper (NYSE: IP) is a leading global supplier of renewable fiber-based products. We produce corrugated packaging products that protect and promote goods, and enable worldwide commerce, and pulp for diapers, tissue and other personal care products that promote health and wellness. Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., we employ approximately 38,000 colleagues globally. We serve customers worldwide, with manufacturing operations in North America, Latin America, North Africa and Europe. Net sales for 2021 were $19.4 billion. Additional information can be found by visiting

About The Manufacturing Institute

The Manufacturing Institute grows and supports the manufacturing industry’s skilled workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing. The MI’s diverse initiatives support all American workers, including women, veterans and students, through skills training programs, community building and the advancement of their career in manufacturing. As the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, the MI is a trusted adviser to manufacturers, equipping them with resources necessary to solve the industry’s toughest challenges. For more information, please visit