Gender Inequality and the Jewelry Trade

I’ve been writing this post and it’s companion piece over a period of time. If you’ve read through my about me post you know that I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but what I haven’t mentioned is that my minor was sociology, and in both my major and minor, I concentrated in classes related to relationships, which included several classes on gender. In my studies I also took elective classes on both Social Control and Consumer Psychology, both of which have served me well and opened my eyes to thinking critically about the world around me, and specifically the world of jewelry.

This blog post is a continuation of the blog post I wrote that was an adaptation of a research paper written about diamonds and jewelry marketing for my Social Control class back in college. This one will feature more anecdotal personal experience. Rightfully so, this is a topic of which I am very invested in and very passionate about.

As a woman, every time I walk into a jewelry store, I watch the salespeople’s body language and how they react to me. Men see me as dollar signs, and don’t consider that I may have technical knowledge about jewelry. I talk to a man in a jewelry store and I feel like I am expected to say, “Oooo pretty sparklies! How much? Let me get my husband!” It is not unlike walking into a car dealership where I am treated as though I have no idea how a car works, or like I care what is under the hood.

necklace stock photo
This dude looks so creepy.

Not long ago my family and I went shopping for a car, and almost every salesman (car salespeople are almost always men, interestingly) talking to me about the amenities, the leather seats, the colors, etc, and directed technical specifications at my husband. This was endlessly irritating because I’m the car “guy” in my house. So to shove them in their place, when my husband would ask a question of the sales person, if I knew an answer, I’d cut them off and answer the question. Now, I’m off on a little bit of a tangent, but I’m also the “jewelry guy” in a jewelry store. I don’t care about “Pretty sparklies!”, I want to know the technical specifications, origins, cut angles, treatment levels, lab reports, manufacturing types, etc. So, when I walk into a jewelry store with my husband, it’s like we won the lottery with how much attention we get. And they direct their attention to showing me the happy pretty sparklies, but direct the pricing information and technical specs at him. Which makes sense based on the traditional gender roles the industry has built it’s foundation on. But does it make sense for the reality of the equality in today’s market, and for the targeted marketing audience?

Antique jewelry ad
Oh, how romantic!

Let me say a couple of things here. I have worked in sales. I have worked waiting tables. If you work in an industry that deals directly with the public, you learn eventually that you absolutely cannot judge a book by it’s cover. You will inevitably get screwed when a wealthy person looking to drop big bucks comes into your establishment looking like a homeless person, and you treat them like a homeless person. “But this is our most expensive model!” “Yes, and I want your most expensive model. Only now I want it from your biggest competitor.” But that’s just generalized basic customer service. I would like to target the jewelry industry a little bit more specifically.

jetpack-jewelry
Are they trying to be facetious?

I recently spent some time in downtown Los Angeles, specifically in the diamond district there. A couple years ago I also spent some time in the diamond district in New York City. There were a few major similarities and a few major differences. The most obvious, and innocuous difference was the style of dress with LA being far more casual with most men wearing casual pants and short sleeved shirts, and NYC being definitely more formal, most men walking around in suits, despite the summer heat. The biggest similarity was the quantity of men. I visited stone setters, colored gem dealers, diamond dealers, and had numerous other men in the business coming by to chat or broker deals in DTLA. Out of everyone that I talked to and visited in DTLA, probably about 25 people, there were only three women behind the counters, and that included my tour guide. In the DD in NYC, I remember seeing four women behind the counter, and all of them deferred to the men they were working under at least once.

Why is the retail jewelry world dominated by men when the vast majority of the customer base is women? As I discussed in my previous blog post,  jewelry industry is built around and directly targeting women.

size does matter legs
Seriously? Sex sells, but ew.

“It’s a boy’s club.”

I’m here to tell you, dear readers, that it is, in fact, a boy’s club. It was only in April that JCK published their “Power Base List 2015” made up of 50 individuals and there were only 13 women on that list. 26%. That’s not even a third of the list. One of those people was Lupita Nyong’o, who has no direct ties to the jewelry industry as an actress, but affects the jewelry industry as a “tastemaker”.

It really gets to me when I hear stories about the industry, and in particular about women who are small business owners/operators/benches/designers/cutters who go to an industry show/convention/etc and are given little to no respect by the boys of the diamond boy’s club with lines such as, “Come back with your husband.” How extraordinarily insulting. When I heard that that line was directed at a dear friend, I seethed and was spitting mad. My wonderful savvy friend gave that man her thoughts right then and there, and proved to him that she didn’t need her husband to make a large financial decision.

Antique jewelry ad2
Ugh. Really?

The really sad thing is, this sexism isn’t limited to certain roles within the trade. In fact, a class action lawsuit was recently brought up against Sterling Jewelers (more commonly known as Jared: The Galleria of Jewels & Kay Jewelers) for women being paid less and passed over for promotion. The problem there, which is more of a read-between-the-lines issue, is that these were in sales and retail management, not in fabrication or executive control, where the lines of gender inequality are even more pronounced.

Google image search: Jeweler
Jeweler

Google image search: woman jeweler
woman jeweler

Data for jewelry workers is very difficult to put together because so many of it’s job descriptions fall within a larger designation, for example, “retail” and “fashion”. Another troublesome error is that some of these big name fashion designers, Vera Wang for example, are creating jewelry lines to capitalize on their name. So you come across a “fashion employee for Vera Wang” but unless you get specific, that person could be a dress maker, fashion model or a jewelry fabricator.

I was given 5 years of monthly Current Population Survey data (random sample data, thought to be representative, compiled by the Census). This is what I learned. Out of a total of 6,835,528 people surveyed only 1,184 were “Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers”, which is an incredibly small number, making the aforementioned laborers rare indeed at .017% of the population*. Now, what I’m really interested in is where the gender divide is. Surprisingly, 54.1% were women, 45.9% are men. Now, this number doesn’t give any information about what type of jewelers we are talking about, and my gut feeling is that the vast majority of these workers are beaders, precious metal clay workers, and artisans that are crafting and selling their own items on a small scale. The problem there is that those people would be considered “crafters” and not “fine jewelry manufacturers” and little credibility is given to these members of the trade.

Aujourd'hui encore, les campagnes publicitaires de la De Beers pour les diamants taillés sont signées du slogan 'A diamond is forever'.
Oh DeBeers…

Have you ever noticed that a majority of jewelry sales people are women? And a vast majority of the jewelry benches are men? Jewelry designers, pawn brokers, diamond brokers, diamond dealers, gemstone dealers, owners, diamond cutters, gemstone cutters, CAD artists, appraisers, CEOs of large companies, etc are almost always men. So my question becomes, if women are the target market for a vast majority of the jewelry that’s out there, why is the majority of the trade made up of men? Why are men directing an entire luxury industry whose target market is almost exclusively women? The marketing strategies mentioned in my first post target men as the actual active buyers of the products, while women end up being the passive consumers.

As society seems to be shifting, with more emphasis on making educated purchases, the jewelry industry is likely going to find itself in a bit of a rut.  Social norms are changing, there is less societal pressure to get married, and a less traditional view on gender norms, which has already started to reflect in jewelry trends. I have noticed that there has been a bit of a quiet uproar in the jewelry world, with numbers of people starting to buy gemstone engagement rings, and educating themselves on jewelry, where it comes from, who is making it. Women make up half of the world, and it’s an industry built for women. I think that women are educating themselves and liberating themselves from the traditional roles that the jewelry industry perpetuates. I know I’m not alone in my perspective, I see so many women who are in the jewelry trade and trying so hard to try to change it from the inside out.

CAD

The jewelry industry itself is not stuck in the 1950s. With diamond imaging technology, CAD programs, 3D printers, diamond optics tools, and more, jewelry has made some amazing technological advances that it has become reliant on. So why does the industry as a whole insist on traditional gendered values within the industry, as well as catering to the traditional roles through the target market? This is an industry that is aimed at women, that is fed by women, and it is currently run by men. I want that to change. I want to support women in small business so that they may grow to be women in big business and change the traditional, sexist values in this industry. There shouldn’t be such a strict gender divide, especially in an industry where women, even as passive consumers, control the market.

I’m not complaining that the jewelry industry is aimed at women. I’m a woman, and I love gemstones and jewelry. I think it is a big mistake that there are so few jewelry leaders who are female. I also think that the jewelry industry needs to rethink how gender biased it is. I see more and more women who are taking the bull by the horns and looking to change the industry slowly, by themselves. In general, this industry is finally starting to critically examine the business structure and finding that women can lead companies too, especially companies making products that are marketed directly at women.

What I don’t see, is enough of an uproar to start making a significant difference.

Proposal

* – Special thank you to my husband the social scientist for helping me find and make sense of the data. And another special thank you to a good friend, who happens to be a Sociology of Gender scholar, for giving me some great insight and helping put my thoughts into words.

Disclaimer: None of the photos viewed in this blog entry belong to me. All ownership rights belong to their respective owners. 

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