Women in the know

Ladies in jewelry knew a lot by the day’s end, February 27, as quite a few of them gathered at the Fashion Institute of Technology for a day of education orchestrated by the Women’s Jewelry Association. The conference, touted as one for “Professional Women in the Jewelry Industry,” featured six different educational sessions, a panel discussion, a keynote speaker, roundtable discussions, and a cocktail reception.

Men vs. women. Differences between men and women were highlighted during an insightful panel discussion with key women in the jewelry industry. During the discussion, audience members gleaned valuable tidbits of career knowledge and advice.

The high-powered women on the panel made some powerful observations about how the two genders operate career-wise. Nancy Brewer, owner, Nancy B., noted, “Socially, men are very comfortable going head to head [with each other],” while women might view such behavior as “devious.” Women are great storytellers, emphasizing many details, said Esther Fortunoff, executive vice president, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry. Men, however, “cut to the chase,” said Geri Bondanza, vice president, Michael Bondanza. Both agreed, however, that women could benefit from learning how to communicate a little more like men.

“Men have a lot more practice at competition, and women tend to be more collaborative,” explained Andrea Hill, director, The Bell Group. Hill learned early on that “the higher you fly, the more you’re shot at,” and while men are comfortable with that, women are more likely to take things personally. And although men and women were equally interested in seeing Hill’s career progress, “it was the women who were more interested in helping me [grow professionally] and … who were very direct about helping me know where I was blowing it!” she says.

Diane Danielson, president of DWC Services Inc. and co-author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking, cited some research on males and females in their formative years. “On playgrounds, little boys and girls play very differently,” she said. For example, little boys wage war and engage in “do-overs” until somebody wins; little girls take turns during play and will end games in order to preserve friendships.

Anna Martin, senior vice president and regional manager of ABN-AMRO International Diamond & Jewelry Group in New York, recalled an experience from early in her career that illustrates some of the differences in how men and women approach opportunity. She had organized a predominately male banking conference and sat in on the day’s events. As the men—whose only dealings in jewelry had only been with diamond dealers—talked shop, Martin asked, “Why don’t we do gold or jewelry manufacturing?” An older man barked at her, “Young lady, we don’t do that!” When she pressed him as to why, he replied, “Because we don’t understand [those sections of jewelry].” Martin said, “I couldn’t accept that [answer].”

Martin also recalled one of her first mentors—a European male—who was hiring lots of female managers at a time when that practice was uncommon. Martin praised him for what she thought was progressive thinking, but to him, the moves were logical: “Anna, women are harder workers, they’re better … managers, and you pay them less.”

World trends. Edie Weiner, keynote speaker for the day and president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., a futurist consulting firm, talked about some of the social trends that she’s currently spotting. A major one is the “aging” of the world’s population. “Italy was the first to recently have more people over the age of 60 than under the age 20,” she said. And rather than referring to the “golden years” or “silvering” of a population, Weiner suggested using the term “diamonding—a compression of a unit [or person] over many years into a multi-faceted gem, one that is different from the next.” Some other trends included:

Leasing opportunities. Become a financial business, then become a product business, she suggested: Declare that you’re a financial institution that “makes money using jewels.”

Time deficits. The higher-income and better-educated folks are the worst informed consumers because they have no time to compare and shop. “Most of the time we’re getting screwed every day [on prices], but it’s worth it to us to pay the difference [and save time],” Weiner said.

Massification of luxury. Many people now believe that luxury is something that is much wanted and in short supply. “Walmart is in the luxury business because you can get everything you want quickly and pay fair price,” she suggested.

For more information about the WJA, its events, or to join, visit the group’s web site at www.womensjewelry.org