Stacie Behler wants to see more women in top leadership roles at West Michigan companies and nonprofits. The Meijer executive in charge of public affairs and corporate communications — and the retailer’s former senior legal counsel — was recently honored by the Michigan Women’s Foundation with its Woman of Courage and Achievement award. The statewide organization focuses on accelerating women’s entrepreneurship, developing the next generation of women leaders and furthering policy issues relevant to women in the state, including a campaign to end the backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit. In accepting the award, Behler put particular emphasis on the mentoring and development of young women and nurturing more female business leaders. She discussed the topics before a crowd of more than 800 people in mid April when she received the award, as well as in an interview with MiBiz following the luncheon ceremony.
What’s your message to the business community regarding empowering women in business?
I want to ask (business) leaders to go on a continued journey with me as leaders. Leadership means different things to different people. I’m suggesting that as leaders we can do something more. We need more women as leaders, period. This isn’t just my perspective. The data proves it out. We’re not moving the needle as quickly as we need to with adding women to our boards, to our companies.
You call on business leaders to mentor and get more women into leadership roles. How do you see that working in practice?
It’s a great question because we all talk about needing more women in leadership, but we don’t know how to do it. I think other women need to be intentional once we’re in positions of leadership — or ‘power,’ if you will — to look around, identify talent, and then intentionally cultivate talent, put them into new roles, bring them on to boards. We have to be more intentional about the work.
What would empowering women to get into business leadership roles achieve?
I’ll use an example: There’s a young woman I met, Khumbo Croft. She works for Gordon Food Service (as the HR compliance manager). She’s a 30-something, amazing young woman from Zambia. She and I connected, I’m her mentor and I got her on the board of the United Way when I came off. Now she’s been elevated in her role at Gordon Food Service and serving the Gordon family. It’s about providing young women and giving women with potential the actual opportunity to sit in a role on a board and grow.
Besides the Gordon Food Service example, what other West Michigan organizations could serve as examples when it comes to elevating women leaders?
I think some of the financial services companies are doing a good job because they’re intentional about it. I think you could look at some of the health service industry (companies). Mercy Health — particularly under the leadership of Bill Manns — is focused on promoting people of color and women very intentionally. Again, you can’t just talk about it. You have to put a plan in place — a measure — and make sure you’re actually achieving the outcomes.
How is Meijer doing at addressing these issues?
If you look at the Meijer leadership team, it’s half women. We have a significant focus on women in leadership at Meijer, (including in) our stores, which is where our customers see people, but also at our corporate headquarters where we support the stores.
What has that leadership meant for Meijer?
I think … the community — whether a corporate environment, neighborhood association or a school board — benefits from having diverse voices. That includes women.
In your public policy role at Meijer, what are some issues currently on the company’s radar?
We serve millions of people coming through our stores every year. We have 70,000 people work for us, we have trucks, food, we have pharmaceuticals. So just about every public policy issue impacts Meijer. We have to pay attention to it and do what we can to make our shopping environment best for our customers, and our work environment best for our employees.
I know that you just got back from running the Boston Marathon. How did you do?
I finished! (Laughs.) That was my only goal, so mission accomplished. I didn’t go in with a planned time. It was my first marathon, so I didn’t know what I could accomplish. The weather conditions weren’t terrific, but I crossed the finish line and could still walk, so that looks like a victory.