As a young woman looking for a career, the jewellery industry seemed a natural fit. Since most jewellery is worn by women, surely my gender should have a more intuitive understanding of what the consumer likes and the market wants?
But what would appear common sense is not always grounded in reality. I just returned home after spending several days at the JCK Show in Las Vegas. There I attended a number of high-level discussions on issues of paramount importance to our business. For the most part, the members of the respective panels were uniformly middle aged and male.
There certainly have been notable exceptions in our industry — strong, influential and intelligent women who have held key leadership positions, have served as role models for people like myself. They include Susan M. Jacques, president and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America; Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee; Dione Kenyon, president of the Jewelers Board of Trade; and Ruth Batson, CEO of the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories. That is the good news. The not so good news is three of four will be retiring over the course of the coming 12 months.
Still that is an incomplete list and there have been other excellent role models, with Varda Shine, the former CEO of the Diamond Trading Company, a case in point. But we cannot escape the fact that, even today, in a business where the end-consumer is predominantly female, the decision makers are mainly male. Few of them wear or have ever worn the very products for which they are responsible.
The paternal nature of our industry most likely has to do with the fact that we are dealing with a high-ticket item. Given the unfortunate wage gap between men and women, even today fewer than 50 percent of the females actually buy their own fine jewellery for themselves. This tendency in higher priced sectors is not specific to the jewellery industry. For example, surveys have shown that car dealerships are often dismissive toward women buyers, with men considerably more likely to get the better deal.
But times are changing, and while considerable wage gaps remain, more women are joining professions that once were considered to be predominantly male. Already today, in many Western countries the majority of students in both medical schools and law schools are female, even though the heads of hospital departments and majority of law firm partners are still male. However, time and demographics will change that.
The same I believe will occur in the jewellery industry. I am an owner of a jewellery company where my partner is also a woman, Dione Lima. The jewellery we produce is for women, and although I would encourage men to buy our products for their loved ones, I like to believe that we are producing goods that women choose for themselves. From what we understand this is the case.
I also am an officer at the World Jewelry Hub in Panama, where from the very outset the mould was broken by having a majority of the executive positions held by women. This was not a strategic decision, but rather a case where the individuals involved were considered the most capable and most qualified to hold the job. This also was the case with the various women who I mentioned as role models in our industry.
And that, ultimately, is my point. Women should not be appointed to any position simply because of their gender, but by the same count they should not be disqualified for the same reason. That said, let us remember that, in a business where the end product is worn mainly by women, we do have certain insights that most men could never have.
At the upcoming Second Latin American Diamond and Jewellery Week, which will take place at the World Jewelry Hub in Panama City, June 21 to 23, a special session will be held that will look specifically at the role and empowerment of women in the Latin American jewellery industry.
While Latin American society is traditionally conservative, the region has been surprisingly progressive when it comes to women in positions of national leadership. In 2012, there were five democratically elected female heads of state and heads of government, which at 22.5 percent, was a higher percentage than any region in the world except except for Nordic Europe.
We would like Latin America to set the trend for the jewellery industry as well. We are making a start in Panama.