Rapaport Magazine

Women Working for Change

Women have long sat in the backseat when it comes to driving the diamond industry. But an enterprising group is looking to make some changes.

By Lara Ewen

Women in the diamond industry are more likely to be wearing the jewels than selling them. Higher up the ladder, the gender imbalance is even more pronounced. Ali Pastorini, senior vice president of the Panama City, Panama–based World Jewelry Hub (WJH), and co-owner of the Brazil-based Del Lima jewelry line, is ready to change that with her Mujeres Brillantes initiative.
   Translated as “brilliant women,” Mujeres Brillantes, which is based out of WJH’s offices, was launched during the WJH Second Latin American Diamond and Jewelry Week, held in Panama City, Panama, in June. The goal of the initiative is to work toward gender equity, so that women in the jewelry industry are given the same respect, rights, advancement opportunities, salaries and benefits as men. The group also plans to address marketing issues and develop new strategies to connect retailers with consumers.
   Fifty-one women attended the first meeting, and to date, there are about 60 women actively involved. The women, who work as retailers, wholesalers, designers, goldsmiths and diamantaires, hail mainly from Latin America, but Turkey, Italy, Romania, Russia and Israel are also represented.

Building on the Past
   It’s an enormous undertaking, albeit not a novel one. Pastorini praises the efforts of similar initiatives and says the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) has helped to shape the ideas behind her own initiative. Still, she sees room for further development.“Our industry is still very conservative,” she says. “We see countries with female leadership, but the jewelry world hasn’t followed. I was in Dubai at the World Diamond Congress this past May and I was the only woman there in an executive position — out of 100 women. The only other women in attendance were secretaries.”

Traditional Roles
   Part of the industry’s gender problem stems from a tradition that saw jewelry businesses passed down patrilineally from grandfather to father to son. “Store owners tend to be male,” says Liz Chatelain, owner of Los Angeles–based MVI Marketing Ltd., a marketing and consumer research firm for the global gemstone, jewelry and watch industries. “They inherited their stores. I think that this is changing, but it’s changing systematically.” Chatelain, whose clients have included Swarovski, Helzberg and Rio Tinto, says the issue reaches all the way from the executive level to the selling floor. “Talk about Sterling,” she says. “How many managers in their stores are women? They’ll tell you it’s improving, or that it’s fifty-fifty, but it’s not great.”
   Even though women are often the end-consumers in the sale, jewelry marketing has traditionally targeted the male shopper, says Ellen Fruchtman, president of Fruchtman Marketing in Toledo, Ohio, which specializes in marketing to the jewelry industry. “From the beginning of time, De Beers was marketing to men. They should be marketing to women. There are so many campaigns that are off the mark.”
   Pastorini agrees, and says women need marketing that focuses on feeling as much as financing. “Jewelry isn’t just a product,” she says. “It’s something women buy when they celebrate. And we are losing that. But Mujeres Brillantes understands that, and we put ourselves close to our customers again.”

Money Matters
   Of course, it’s not all about emotions. It’s also about money and influence. “Most of my clients are women,” Pastorini says. “They buy their own jewelry. They don’t wait for their husbands or boyfriends to buy for them. My women clients buy whatever they want at any price because they have their own careers and their own money.”
   Retailers are certainly seeing women exerting greater financial influence. At The Clay Pot, which has two New York City locations, owner Tara Silberberg says women are involved financially, even for engagement purchases. “If you’re talking about bridal, we work more and more with the couple,” she says. “We have very specific brides and they’re in our store for a reason. And they tend to be more invested in what they’re buying.”
   Chatelain agrees. “One of the biggest issues that’s going to hit engagement is that women will be more involved in financing,” she says, noting that practicality is trumping outdated relationship traditions. “This isn’t a fairytale, the way it was 50 or 60 years ago. Now the message is, ‘Let’s go look at rings together.’ Only a third of men look at rings alone, and that’s becoming rarer and rarer.”

An Industry in Need of Change
   Whether the impetus for change is female-driven or not, Silberberg says change is needed, and soon. “The old-school diamond world is going to tank because they refuse to change and they can’t compete with the way things work in modern times,” she says. “There are a lot of old men running these stores, but they’re like the captain of the Titanic, and the women are like speedboats. You need to turn fast in this economy — and you need to move quickly. If you rest on your laurels and say, ‘I’m right and I know how it’s done,’ you’re going down.”
   Unfortunately, in an industry bound by tradition, change is slow to come and hard to implement. Pastorini says when she brings up ideas about female-driven campaigns and initiatives, some of her male colleagues have been frustratingly dismissive. “When I talk about this with men, some receive this message very well,” she says. “But there are some men who think this is another women’s group talking about women’s things and they don’t think our ideas are real. So the men in general still think this isn’t going to happen and that we’re just going to give up.” She says those responses aren’t merely irritating. They’re outdated. “The men think they know a lot,” she says. “They used to know a lot 20 years ago. But times have changed and they haven’t adapted. But the women have changed and learned and adapted.”
   Above all, Pastorini is hopeful. “I’m a positive person by nature,” she says. “I believe that if every woman around the world reads this article and feels proud of each other, then we can change the mentality, and help each other. The important thing is that we need to start and work together and pay more attention — and start to change minds.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2016. To subscribe click here.

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