Nancy Stachiw, Director of Application Development and ICL Food Specialties in St. Louis, has been with ICL and predecessor companies through acquisition for 34 years. In this reflection on her career so far and women’s progress, she shares her love of science and her positive, grounded outlook.
One of my early inspirations was the resiliency of women that I witnessed while volunteering with the Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, as a nutritionist with pregnant women and children, and then at an all-girls school. I took this with me, as I began my career after graduate school, in the Phosphates group at Monsanto. I started in the lab with food phosphate, then became Team Leader, Manager, and eventually R&D Director.
When I first started working, there were no women R&D Managers in our division and few women in leadership. Being a mother and finding balance was also not always easy as I used to travel up to 50% of my time – but I always felt great support from people around me. I have the utmost respect, understanding and compassion for women trying to juggle all these things. It’s really encouraging to see women in high positions and leadership at ICL that are successful in managing these complexities.
Early in my career it was important to me to make an impact doing research to support new product development and customer applications. However, as I moved into management, I realized my most significant impact was on the people around me – motivating them, creating a learning environment and ensuring resources. I am an optimist by nature, my motto is “let’s find a way”.
Working through the COVID pandemic has demanded some flexibility. Since food is part of the critical infrastructure, we never shut down the research lab. A core group of scientists continued to come into our site for ongoing work and R&D. It was stressful and we worried about our safety, but our work was important and needed to continue so we use the best practices we have with masks, hygiene and distancing protocol. It was eerie and a bit unnerving being the only car on the highway.
At home, COVID has been a challenge too, but I managed to find a way. My husband had a stroke 5 years ago, and is disabled. During COVID, we can’t have outside caregivers, so my son and his wife have been working from our place, to help out.
ICL is a great environment, with everyone – male and female – working with respect and integrity. Still, as a woman and a manager, I think I have the most impact on the young women I work with that are part of my team within the R&D Community. I try and provide guidance and support for these women on the incredible journey their careers can hold.
I work with many amazing women at ICL but there is one I would like to spotlight. I have been blessed with an opportunity of serving as the Business Innovation for Growth (BIG) Champion for Phosphate Specialties. In this exciting role, I get to be in the forefront of our innovation efforts. Sharon Krumbein from Phosphate Commodities in Israel is my BIG partner and she helped me so much in this role. Sharon inspires me with her determination, intelligence and dedication. She makes it look easy and balances work and family seamlessly. She is brilliant – I see her going very far in the company.
There are certainly incredible women in business and science, but to me, the true role models are everyday people like nurses who work in the ER dealing with COVID, or the mom who takes a double shift to support her family. These are women making it happen, keeping work and families together and doing extraordinary things that don’t get noticed.
Women are underrepresented in science and engineering. Steps to encourage and engage girls in STEM from an early age are necessary. Girls are interested in science and this needs to be nurtured so they can be more significant contributors. Life has its ups and downs and when you are early in your career any kind of setback can seem daunting. To young women and girls, my message is: Persevere. Find a way. Make it happen. Don’t settle. At ICL specifically, I see more opportunities and more advancement of women, and not just words from our senior leadership, which I appreciate very much. Women are represented in all functions and levels in ICL.
I love being a woman in science and could not imagine a better career. We have lofty plans for our alternative protein business at Food Specialties, a remarkable initiative that has the ability to change the world, that I’m so proud of. I hope others can find this passion and fulfillment in science too.