Women are Asking for Opportunity, not Favors

G2J Exclusive: Ali Pastorini, Senior Vice President of World Jewelry Hub Analyses Women’s Empowerment Session Held at the Second Latin American Diaomond & Jewelry Week

On June 23, 2016, the World Jewelry Hub (WJH) organized a special round-table discussion focusing on the empowerment of women in Latin America’s jewelry, diamond and gemstone sectors. The event took place as part of the Second Latin American Diamond and Jewelry Week at the WJH in Panama City.

The interest shown in the initiative, both from within Latin America and beyond its borders was most pleasing. Clearly we had struck a raw nerve. Physical attendance was much better that we originally had expected, with 51 women from 12 countries participating.

We had decided on a round-table format, because we wanted participants to be able look each other in the eye and at the same level. We all had come to discuss the anxieties that each of us have about our industry, and the opportunities that many of feel should be extended, but too often are not.

I saw that no matter the country, the culture or the language, the challenges and dreams are very similar. All women are asking for opportunity, not favors.

The very fact that we came to seated in the same room gave testament to the fact that, with work and insistence, a great many things are possible. The idea for this initiative was conceived a little more than four months ago at my desk in New York, and after a concerted effort, together with our team at the WJH, what began as an idea became reality. Nothing in this life is impossible, no matter what other people say.

A variety of subjects were raised during the meeting. I asked attendees why so few of us fill key positions, particularly when our end-consumers are almost all women? Why are so few of us industry leader? Is this purely the fault of the industry’s establishment, or have we forgot to support each other and feel proud of our accomplishments?

There was no common element connecting the participants at the meeting, other than gender and a belief that women should be playing a prominent role in the business. We had women from different cultures, religions and age groups. The same range existed in terms of experience in the market, with some at the meeting having been in the industry more that 20 year and others that are just starting in the business.

Our intention was not that meeting be simply a photo opportunity. Our intention was make it something relevant for the industry, and to begin to change minds.  This will not come overnight, and there needs to be follow on. We will meet again, but in the meantime we have created a Whatsapp group, which all women in the industry are invited to join, to continue this important discussion.

I received tremendous support from women over the world.  They include Brandee Dallow, President of the Women’s Jewelry Association and the director of Rio Tinto’s diamond office in North America, who called before the event to congratulate me on the initiative and to voice her support for what we are doing. Yancy Weinrich, Senior Vice President of Reed Exhibitions and head of the JCK Shows, who also sent me a warm message in Las Vegas. Cecilia Gardner, President and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, has supported the idea from the beginning.

Aylin Gözen, a jeweler and journalist, who also is a good friend, flew in from Turkey especially for the event. She confessed during the meeting that, when she heard from me about the idea, she initially thought I was crazy to take on so traditional and conservative an industry.  But she said that she was glad that I did not heed her advice. Aylin now wants to do the same in Middle East, and obviously I will lend my support. Every women striving to attain an executive position, deserves our support, wherever in the world she may be located.

We not only discussed the role of woman, but also how the magic of the business may be fading, and how the art of selling jewelry is being replaced entirely by the science of doing business. We need to dedicate more time in making every sale a special moment that we share with our customers.

One of the attendees from Bolivia noted most accurately that shoes, bags and clothing eventually are all thrown out, but jewelry is kept. So why then are we losing market share to the fashion business? Should we not look to the image that we are projecting to our customers?

I hope that all women who attended the meeting left with the feeling of connections having been created, and a new sense of commitment to the cause of female empowerment.  The meeting showed that dreams can come true, but only if we really believe and then work hard to realize them.