DS Smith North America Celebrates International Women's Day 2020

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th, with the theme "#EachforEqual - an equal world is an enabled world." To mark the occasion, we spoke to some of our female employees to find out more about being a woman in our business.

image1ud9n.pngFor International Women's Day 2020, we asked Brenda Bunn Wells, Sharon Terry, Karen Terrill and Kathrine Michelsen, who work in a variety of roles for DS Smith North America, to share how they got here, the challanges they faced, and the outlook for women in the industry.

Brenda Bunn Wells

Brenda Bunn Wells

Brenda Bunn Wells, Plant Manager, DS Smith Packaging Greenboro, North Carolina, has been with DS Smith since 2015.  Her career in Packaging & Paper began in 1995 with a greenfield operation specializing in offset lithography.       

What’s your experience being a woman in the Packaging & Paper industry during your career?

Wells: Early in my career I sought out mentors in the industry to strengthen my business acumen. A personal drive to succeed led to new opportunities to take on new roles. Those same roles further developed my business acumen having worked in Supply Chain, Sales and Manufacturing. I’ve been successful not because I’m a woman nor despite being a woman but because I earned a seat at the table through continuous learning and professional development as well as setting a high standard of accountability and delivering results. 

Terry: Constantly having to prove yourself.  This is still a male oriented industry where the “glass ceiling” is just beginning to get a crack. It is better but there’s still room for improvement.

Terrill: Although I have only been in the Packaging & Paper industry for a short time, I have met many amazingly talented women at DS Smith and this industry. In every level of the company I see women represented and I hope that will drive more women to consider this industry as career. Paper & Packaging is a new industry to me but it is one I hope to continue to learn about and grow in.

Michelsen: It has been an immensely rewarding experience. I am lucky to have an amazing group of people around me, constantly encouraging me to expand my knowledge and push the limits.

Sharon Terry

Sharon Terry

Sharon has been with the organization for a total of 38 years. Originally hired as a Personnel Clerk, Sharon was promoted to Payroll/Workers’ Compensation Specialist before becoming a Human Resources Administrator. 

Do you have any advice for women who are interested in working in the manufacturing industry?

Wells: Understand your strengths and weaknesses.  A teamwork approach accompanied with an ability to adapt to change will serve you well. Organizational and learning agility is important in this industry, any industry really.  Learning how your company works behind the scenes and how to get things done in complex environments will only help you deliver results.  Delivering results advances your career and earns confidence and trust in your abilities and decision quality.

Terry: Stay true to yourself.  Be confident in your abilities.  Don’t accept “no” as an answer. If you must prove yourself, do it! Be pleased with the reflection in the mirror!  Whatever you do, don’t compromise your integrity nor your self-worth. Respect yourself and others will respect you as well.

Terrill: I would tell any woman that is interested in working in manufacturing to jump right in! Manufacturing is a great place for women, whether on the plant floor, leadership, strategy, design, sales or finance. There are tremendous opportunities for growth and diversity of ideas is always encouraged and embraced at DS Smith.

Michelsen: Speak up and don’t be afraid of challenges. When navigating our careers, women face the same roadblocks experienced many other industries. Find your voice and ensure your perspectives are being heard.

Karen Terrill

Karen Terrill

Karen Elizabeth Terrill, is our Interim Shared Services Director based in Atlanta. Karen has been with DS Smith since January 2019.

What has been the hardest challenge being a woman in the workforce overall?

 Wells: As a wife, mother and dedicated employee you want to ensure a proper work/life balance. This is a tall order and if you know you need to brush up on your organizational skills, do that first.  It will pay dividends in helping you achieve a satisfying career and personal happiness.

Terry: Early in my career with the Company I held a position that was historically male. It moved from a male to a woman.  I was the youngest Timekeeper in the history of the Company at 21 years old advising and telling 50/60 year old males what they could and could not do. This didn’t make things easy. I convinced the supervisors, just like them, I was here to do a job to the best of my ability.  They didn’t have to like me. I only asked for respect and for them to allow me to do my job.

Terrill: The biggest challenge for women in the workforce is the balance between family and career. No matter the industry, women have competing demands trying to “have it all”; success at work and quality family time. Companies such as DS Smith have made great strides to provide employees with work-life balance. Employees are provided time to be there for aging parents, partners and children without sacrificing opportunity for career satisfaction and growth.  

Michelsen: Overall, I believe the largest challenge I have faced is from within. Gaining the courage to lead and finding where my expertise lies in conjunction with those around me takes time. However, in the end it is worth it to take on these challenges and make your mark in the world.

Kathrine Michelsen

Kathrine Michelsen

Kathrine Michelsen has been with DS Smith since 2016 and is a Manufaturing Process Engineer in Riceboro, Georgia.

How do you see the future of women in manufacturing roles?

Wells: The idea that manufacturing careers are all shift work and hot factories is changing. That’s a good thing because in most cases that view just isn’t true.  Women across the country manage factories and do so successfully. As sustainability and renewable resources continue to become an important factor to consumers the paper and packaging industry becomes an interesting option for up and coming talent.  We find more and more that college grads are becoming interested in our space and how they can grow a career with environmentally responsible companies that provide products made with renewable resources.

Terry: The sky’s the limit! I encourage young women to pursue degrees in engineering. If that is not for you, go to a technical college and get that degree or certificate in Industrial Mechanics, welding, etc.  Jobs are not assigned by gender anymore.  They are assigned by ability.

Terrill: I see a bright future for women in manufacturing. Technology is providing exciting changes and opportunities in all facets of manufacturing. Robotics, AI, IOT will all impact and grow manufacturing and I believe women will play an integral part in driving future growth, efficiency and profitability.  

Michelsen: The future is bright! Historically, employees have expected to be led by a regimented group of traditions. Currently in our history, women are exceeding traditional expectations by introducing different leadership styles at every level of management in manufacturing. This change is impacting every individual in the workforce, so I believe these changes are also impacting society.

What woman inspires you and why?

Wells: I’m sure there are numerous influential women who exude qualities to be admired and we could all learn from them.  For me it’s my mother, as the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner and youngest female of 15 siblings her self-worth was never a reflection of a title or material things but more so how you live the life you’re given.  The morals upon which you hold yourself accountable instil true value.  In a world full of recording devices in every hand, it’s the actions you take when no one is looking that is the true reflection of one’s character.  I would not be the woman I am today without her guidance and strength.  

Terry: My mother, Maggie Ann Gause Hopkins, inspired me most. My dad, who was a career military person, didn’t want my mother to go back to college and complete her degree in Early Childhood Education, and to pursue her dream of teaching. She completed her education and taught school for over 35 years.

Terrill: The woman that inspires me is my Great Aunt Billie. Aunt Billie’s real name was Willa but everyone called her Billie. Aunt Billie lived a modest life, had no children of her own but took care of everyone. My Aunt raised my dad and his 3 sisters when their parents abandoned them. Billie worked for General Electric Corporation in the Accounting Department of their NELA incandescent lamp division in Cleveland, OH. Billie worked for GE for 25 years, and although she loved her work, her great love was travel. Aunt Billie worked two jobs to care for her new family and scrimped and saved toward her goal to travel and find adventure. She never gave up on her dream and was able to travel to 6 of the 7 continents of the world! My Aunt Billie inspires me because she was a self-less lady who cared for others, worked hard and lived an adventurous life. My Aunt Billie inspired me to travel, find adventure and never give up on your dreams!

Michelsen: My mother is my biggest inspiration. She is never afraid to speak her mind and her work ethic is something to marvel at. This has instilled in me the curiosity and confidence to pursue what I am passionate about but with the understanding that success will not come without hard work.