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Diversity: A Business Opportunity

The rewards of an inclusive workplace are far-reaching, and the diamond and jewelry world has made progress — but there’s still a long way to go.

Oct 15, 2019 5:29 AM   By Deborah Yonick
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RAPAPORT... Having a workforce that is more diverse not only makes good business sense, it makes good economic sense. Companies with a more inclusive employee base — i.e., a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals — are more competitive in the global market, according to research by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. More diverse companies not only make more money, they’re shown to attract top talent, be more innovative, and retain more of their staff.

After examining over 1,000 companies in a dozen countries for its January 2018 “Delivering Through Diversity” study, McKinsey found that firms in the top quarter for gender and ethnic diversity were respectively 21% and 33% more likely to see higher-than-average profits than those at the bottom. This was especially true on the management level: Diversity in executive teams had the biggest impact on financial performance.

While awareness of the correlation between profits and inclusiveness is growing, McKinsey says progress is slow. Companies in all industries, including diamonds and fine jewelry, are grappling with how to increase representation of diverse talent, gain an understanding of where diversity matters most in their businesses, and create an inclusive organizational culture to reap the benefits.

Women in focus

The diamond and jewelry industry has much work to do on this front.

“Based on traditions, trust and handshakes, both the diamond and jewelry industries are sectors predominantly governed by mainly white men, and both were heavily saturated with family businesses,” says Victoria McKay, founder and managing director of the UK-based Women’s Jewellery Network (WJN). “It’s unsurprising that the trade lags behind more forward-thinking sectors, such as fin-tech, that do not have this heritage of male-dominated power and privilege.”

Most organizations, she continues, are focusing on gender as the “easiest” mountain to climb with regard to inclusion. “The male representation in directorate positions the world over remains significant, and even where there are more women, there is a lack of intersectionality. It is almost impossible to find representation of other protected characteristics such as race or disability.”

That said, she sees progress. Social media has a powerful part to play, she believes, as do the changing demographic and generational shifts across the globe.

Jewelry industry legal consultant Cecilia Gardner has observed a “heightened focus” on gender equality, promotion of diversity, and protection of vulnerable groups when it comes to standard-setting. Gardner, who works with the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) in that field, also lauds the attention the US State Department devoted to women’s empowerment in the mineral and jewelry supply chain at a recent conference

Indeed, laws are becoming more forward-leaning, according to Tiffany Stevens, CEO and president of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC). California and New York, where a lot of US jewelry business occurs, are leading the way with laws that include requiring greater female representation on public company boards, generous parental leave, sexual harassment training, and non-discrimination against natural hair (which particularly affects black employees). She recommends that businesses consult with an employment attorney who is well versed in the local laws. “Suss out one before there’s a problem,” she advises.

Gardner believes the greater focus on diversity in standard-setting will have a positive impact. In particular, she reports, the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) is using the results of its recent Gender Equality Project survey — which focused on gender factors in workplace practices — to develop training and mentorship initiatives that address these issues.

Pushing them out?

McKay cautions against approaching diversity as a box-ticking exercise. “Companies may be actively trying to recruit more women to their senior team, but continue to use the same media. Their adverts may contain the same unconscious bias, and their policies are inflexible and prohibit the selection of swathes of women who also have childcare responsibilities to consider when seeking employment.”

And it’s not just about numbers, she continues. “I’ve been in many boardrooms across the diamond industry where not only have I been the only woman, I have also been made to feel unwelcome, or that my views were not being taken seriously because of my gender.”

She acknowledges that it can be difficult to stay and fight the good fight. Independent female entrepreneurship is on the rise, especially within a younger demographic. On the one hand, she says, “this is brilliant, but if we’re seeing women leave corporate to forge their own paths, that means there is an even shallower pool of female leaders to choose from.”

Many of the industry’s women entrepreneurs, including goldsmiths and designers, are the thought leaders driving the responsible sourcing movement, adds Gardner. People like designer Dana Bronfman, blogger and Anza Gems president Monica Stephenson, and Anna Bario, owner of sustainable jewelry brand Bario Neal, “are pulling others along with them,” she cheers.

Conversely, the trade runs myriad risks if it does not improve diversity, warns McKay, “from alienating women and deterring them from careers in jewelry, to limiting product sales through lack of insights in marketing and promotion of goods. Women have a lot of value to add, and we remain the largest consumers of jewelry in every market you care to choose.”

‘I don’t see color’

Of course, representation in the business environment is about more than just gender. Employee diversity encompasses race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, educational and socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, culture, and disabilities as well.

“When you talk about inclusion, it can be a challenging subject,” says Nyasha Pitt, a London-based marketing and branding expert as well as WJN’s communications director. “People feel attacked. I often hear: ‘I don’t see gender or color. I give the job to the best person.’”

As a leading black woman in the diamond and jewelry industry, she says the best person for the job is the one who brings the diversity the organization needs to be successful. Having a range of perspectives, cultures and backgrounds is a key driver of innovation, she maintains, and it helps create organizations that are effective and resilient.

In her own experience, such diversity has been hard to find. “I’ve often felt underrepresented; that goes for the boardroom all the way through to the way products are marketed,” she relates. “Ironically, as I entered the trade in a directorial role in a jewelry institution (the Birmingham Assay Office), I became a visible influencer and role model almost instantly. So I often had black jewelers...approach me because they were so pleased to see someone like them.... They didn’t feel intimidated, or that they’d be rejected or dismissed out of hand.”

The position she’s in is a “very curious” one, she reflects. “As an influencer, I appear in trade magazines often — either because I am contributing or I’ve been photographed at industry events. Often I am the token black person by default. I think more people should feel uncomfortable about that fact.”

Culture- and religion-driven nuances can prove challenging as well in terms of shifting the diversity dial, says McKay. For instance, “as a woman working in the diamond industry, I came to learn that a Jewish man, dependent on his level of faith, may or may not shake my hand, or may or may not close the door for a meeting. And I have learned to respect that this isn’t about me being a woman — it’s about his faith and beliefs. As a religious person, [just] his being there, in my presence, speaks volumes for his confidence in our business.... Therefore, in my mind, I must be the global citizen I believe myself to be, and respect his right of choice. I’d also point out that I know the context runs the same man-to-woman as woman-to-man” — that is, religious Jewish women often observe the same restrictions vis-à-vis men.

“To create a level playing field for everyone, we need to find balance,” McKay stresses. “It’s okay to see each other’s differences. What isn’t acceptable is to unfairly prejudice anyone based on their nuances.”

LGBTQ outreach

Nearly two-thirds of millennials believe organizations are more innovative when they have a culture of inclusion, according to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey. In fact, the 2016 edition of the study found that nearly half looked for diversity when sizing up employers. Pitt adds that 40% of Gen Z-ers consider themselves global citizens, not part of a given race or place.

Millennials also have an evolved opinion on same-sex marriage, which has largely been a lost opportunity for jewelers. There’s been little outreach since the 2015 passage of marriage equality in the US, say Matthew Perosi and George Blair IV, founders of the Jewelers Equality Alliance.

“We’ve seen two same-sex couples featured in mainstream jewelry ads: Tiffany in 2015 and Zales in 2016,” says Perosi. “At the time, it was hip to try and capture the early market. Both ads featured thin, white people, but bonus points for having their models in proximity to each other, and touching.”

Since then, both the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) and De Beers’ Forevermark brand have run ads with LGBTQ relationships in them. However, Blair and Perosi point to flaws. In Forevermark’s “I Take You, Until Forever” clip, “there is a scene with a lesbian couple where they are presented as mothers instead of portrayed as tender couples, like everyone else in that video,” says Perosi, suggesting that this was “a safe way of presenting a same-sex relationship without it being obvious.” And the DPA’s “Real Is Rare” ad featuring a lesbian couple “wasn’t particularly viral or promoted.”

In general, he and Blair have not seen much courting from the trade. “When we launched the Jewelers Equality Alliance, we received pats on the back for being so forward,” recalls Perosi. “But when we offered training for proper pronoun usage and inclusiveness, we received pushback from many jewelers that felt they did not need training.”

They describe the general vibe as “If I ignore it, it’ll go away,” or “It’s not my problem,” or worse yet, “If I advertise same-sex couples, it will scare away my regular customers.” They cite homophobia as one of the challenges, adding that it tends to go hand-in-hand with misogyny, classism and racism. “The jewelry community is not intersectional,” says Blair. “It barely acknowledges that women buy their own items.”

Same-sex male couples typically prefer to buy their rings online, according to Perosi, “instead of dealing with the potential shame that might be cast upon them when they walk into a jewelry store that surrounds them with large diamonds and semi-mount rings.” It’s an experience he and Blair can confirm from their own relationships.

“Jewelers tell us with regard to same-sex marriage that they never turn away a customer looking to buy engagement or wedding rings. Yet they don’t comprehend that the appearance of their store portrays traditional marriage values and appeals to women while shunning men,” Perosi comments. “Most jewelry stores have a paltry selection of men’s jewelry and never advertise to male customers, yet expect men will walk into their store when they’re ready to buy wedding rings.”

Plenty to improve

The WJN’s Pitt acknowledges that the world is changing: Marriage rates are down, relationship dynamics are shifting, and jewelry is not an imperative. When it comes to attracting and keeping customers, she says, communication is key. “We need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations, to be forgiving, to recognize that none of us are perfect or have all the answers.”

Practically speaking, she continues, businesses need to recognize “that having one senior person of color isn’t enough. Implementing blind recruitment processes and looking at where jobs are advertised are some basic steps which would open up senior appointments to a broader pool of talent.”

In turn, a more diverse staff can provide fresh ideas that can help increase inclusion. “The very best person to advise on what it’s like to be a person of color is a person of color, so if you have access to that insight, use it,” she urges.

On the retail level, Perosi suggests that “ads for wedding jewelry should no longer include both bride and groom, [but] one or the other so customers can see what they want to see. Additionally, ads should show brides and grooms in more diverse wedding-day clothing.”

The important thing is to move forward. “This isn’t about attacking the way it has always been done,” says Pitt. “It’s about understanding that this is how we need to do it now if we want to attract young people of broad backgrounds to look at jewelry as viable.”

De Beers: Doing the workGlobal diamond producer De Beers has been giving diversity more than just lip service, according to thought leaders in the trade. Tiffany Stevens of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) cites De Beers as a prime example of a company doing it right — one that’s pursuing a comprehensive approach to inclusion and diversity, or “I&D,” in its business model, from mining to retail. 

The company has seen progress since it formally launched its I&D strategy in 2017. Out of the 13 members of De Beers’ executive committee, four (31%) are women and serve in key commercial and operational roles. Moreover, women accounted for nearly a quarter of senior leadership positions in 2018, up from 17% in 2016, according to a recent article in Mining Weekly.

“The aim of De Beers’ strategy is to provide equality of access to opportunity and build an environment where people can come to work and achieve their full potential,” Katie Fergusson, the company’s social impact senior vice president, told the publication. While the plan was initially launched with a focus on gender, she said, it was difficult to do in isolation. So it was expanded to look at I&D in three main areas: leadership and culture, talent development, and working practices. 

At De Beers mines in South Africa, for instance, the company has introduced lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers. This and other changes are being rolled out throughout the group, including efforts to equip more women with the skills to take on technical roles, and addressing inadequate facilities and limited personal protective equipment for women — impediments that impact their performance. 

De Beers also has a partnership with UN Women to improve the livelihoods of more than 1,200 female micro-entrepreneurs in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, including a $3 million investment in programs to advance women and girls in these diamond-producing countries. In Canada, meanwhile, it’s offering young women from indigenous communities scholarships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Stevens also notes De Beers’ community-development efforts: its support of the local businesses and people surrounding its mines, and partnerships with the host governments to achieve these objectives. 

This article was first published in the October issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: Matthew Perosi (left) and George Blair.
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Tags: Anna Bario, ANZA Gems, Bario Neal, Cecilia Gardner, Dana Bronfman, De Beers, Deborah Yonick, Diamond Producers Association, diversity, Dpa, Forevermark, George Blair IV, Jewelers Equality Alliance , Jewelers Vigilance Committee, JVC, Matthew Perosi, McKinsey & Company, Monica Stephenson, Nyasha Pitt, Rapaport News, Real is Rare, Responsible Jewellery Council, RJC, Tiffany, Tiffany Stevens, Victoria McKay, wja, WJN, Women’s Jewellery Network, Women’s Jewelry Association, zales
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