As the only woman in high-level discussions and decision-making rooms, Kelley Stacy, President, CEO of SMC Corporation of America, navigated obstacles and shattered gender roles, setting the stage for the next generation of women to rise to leadership positions. In this interview featured in Packaging World's Women in Packaging July supplement, she shares her formula for success and the strategies the industry must adopt to support and empower women in their pursuit of excellence.
What is your name and position?
Kelley Stacy, President, CEO of SMC Corporation of America
Tell us about your background and how you got into the packaging industry.
I have been with SMC for nearly 30 years and have been proud to serve in a number of positions that allowed me to learn our business inside and out, from purchasing and special projects to my eventual development into a senior vice president role, before becoming president in 2019.
I think it is this breadth of opportunity and experience that has really allowed me to learn this industry from the ground up, and incorporate the lessons of leadership on my path to this current role.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
All too often, I find myself as the only woman in the room, particularly when it comes to high level discussions and decision making. It can be incredibly challenging to break through the perceived gender roles in this industry and navigate a wide range of obstacles to ensure that we pave the way for the next generation of women to have a seat at the table.
In a time when less than five percent of manufacturing and engineering companies in the U.S. are run by women, I feel that we have a duty to break down barriers to success so that we can inspire and support future generations of women as they navigate their own career paths.
What do you think are some of the key factors that have contributed to your success in the industry?
I’ve always believed that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to truly relate to and hear people. Whether it is our customers, distributors, or employees, I take great pride in the ability to manage and care for people, making space at the table and ensuring that everyone is treated fairly. Overlooking people is one of the surest ways to crash any company, whereas when you’re able to develop experience and perspective from all entities, you can become a stronger leader. The opportunities I’ve had to gain this perspective and cultivate my leadership skills are really some of the greatest factors that have shaped my current role.
What can the industry do better to support women and increase the number of women in leadership positions?
There are a number of things we can do to ensure that we are adequately supporting women currently in the industry, while setting the stage for the next generation to take over; specifically investing in Women in STEM programs, creating equitable workforce policies, and engaging with girls at a young age to show them the breadth of what’s possible.
At SMC, I’ve been incredibly proud to foster the growth of our Women in STEM program, an employee resource group, which is focused on breaking down internal barriers to the advancement of women in these fields.
In addition to these activities, I think it is incumbent upon leaders to constantly evaluate their policies to ensure that they’re truly working towards equitable access to opportunities for women. Whether it’s maternity leave policies, inclusive spaces for working parents, or flexible work schedules, when we develop policies that prioritize our employees, we break down barriers to success, elevate those who have too often been left behind and increase our own productivity.
Lastly, whether it’s through youth mentorship programs, career days, or simple conversations with the young women in our lives, we need to be intentional about sharing our stories, and creating pathways for the next generation to see themselves as leaders in our industry.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in packaging?
My advice for women preparing to enter this field or any field dominated by men is to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. You may find opportunities that you think you can’t do, but you’ll never know until you give it your all; and there’s just as much value in discovering what you don’t like to do as there is in discovering your passion.
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable and try things you’ve never done before because growth and development will always stretch us further than we think we can go. Set your goals and stick to them. Don’t let being the minority in the room push you away from what you set out to achieve.