Uniformity and Conformity at Jewelry’s Luxe Heritage Brands
As I watched the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I couldn't help but see the blindingly stark reality of two separate Americas. This dichotomy takes many names — conservative vs. liberal; Republican vs. Democrat; status-quo vs. progressive; "American" vs. immigrant — but in the end, it seems that one description captures it best: homogeneity vs diversity.
Regardless of its name, the dichotomy appears everywhere and affects virtually all aspects of our lives. It's quite easy to point to the ugly rise (yet again) of white supremacy movements in recent years, but that is obvious. What is more subtle, but can be equally devastating, are the myriad ways in which the dichotomy between homogeneity and diversity infects the everyday. It infects all marketing aimed at us and thereby our reasoning, decisioning and purchasing. It infects our sense of the "norm" at work, home and play. It infects social media and the way we interact with the world and each other.
As the world continues to diversify and we try to end the dichotomy and reveal the actual nature of the world we live in (big, diverse, colorful, frenetic), we can examine areas where progress can be made; areas that have meaningful impacts on our everyday lives. One such area is the corporate leadership model.
As I launched The Jewelry Edit®, one of my motivations was to democratize the way we shop for jewelry—recognizing the diversity of designers, customers, styles, world-views, budgets and more that are at play. Including that diversity is absolutely essential to creating a vibrant marketplace that reflects all of the best that's on offer — not just a selected slice of goods and services reflective of a largely homogenous jewelry industry, which for many years has survived by peddling the allure of traditional hierarchies, multi-generational wealth and white privilege. I'm not white, I'm not Black, I'm not Latino, I'm Brown – of Sri Lankan heritage by way of New Zealand. Diversity in all areas matters to me. It's personal.
Toward that end, rushing to put a black model into a jewelry ad as a response to the racial awakening happening around us doesn’t adequately address the systemic lack of diversity in leadership. Nor does hiring a "diversity officer" when all the board members are white with no meaningful effort put toward change from within. Examining the corporate leadership of the big players in the jewelry industry is the first step in understanding the landscape and thereby affecting change. Leaving such corporate leadership shrouded in obscurity doesn't serve us well. Instead, an open examination of this leadership can shed light on the progress that needs to be made to move from homogeneity to diversity. Unfortunately, the examination shows just how much work remains.
From what I could find in public records, the current stats suggest: no people of color holding executive positions on the board of directors at David Yurman, Harry Winston, Cartier, Chopard, Graff, Van Clef & Arpels, Buccellati, Bvlgari or Boucheron. There are two women of color on the board of Tiffany & Co. And I found one Asian woman and a South Asian man in non-executive director positions on the board at Richemont Group (which owns a number of these brands). Also, an Asian woman serves as the the CEO of Van Clef & Arpels Americas. These small victories are not enough when the management landscape is overwhelmingly dominated by a sea of white. Amongst all these companies, there wasn’t a single Black person on the board of directors.
And this is important, make no mistake. The “DNA” of a company rests within its highest leadership. From the leadership comes the company’s direction, attitudes and social mores in business. The key role of the board of directors (as Tiffany & Co has stated) is to provide “oversight and guidance to management regarding the business, operations and strategies of the Company”. To do this, in today’s world, can the voices heralding the direction of the company all be white? Should they? I argue they cannot and should not.
When corporate leadership is out of touch with what their own customers – and for that matter, the public in general – look like and act like, that clearly registers as tone-deaf and is detrimental to their sustained success., Indeed, as consumers become more focused on diversity (or more precisely the lack thereof), they expect the companies they buy from to respect the importance of diversity and to represent it in their product offerings.
Diversity requires inclusion and a sense of belonging, and we all want to feel welcomed — not used as marketing tokens. Collaborating with Black musical artists and celebrities as a representation of their “cool” factor absent meaningful internal change is neither fashionable nor responsible.
And while we may not all be able to afford a Graff diamond, and maybe some of you haven’t heard of Boucheron, I believe these companies, like most, want to be out there marketing to a diverse consumer base to maximize their sales and revenue. Then again, maybe they don’t, in which case they will continue to operate in an ever shrinking niche market. I had to scroll back to 2018 on Boucheron’s Instagram feed to find a Black person and even then it was a celebrity whom they had dressed at Cannes. Similarly, I had to scroll back to the December 2019 holiday campaign on Graff’s Instagram to find a Black woman.
Recent industry press remains silent about this imbalance in the leadership sector at the biggest houses in the industry — from the boards of directors to its advisers and other power players. An internal motivation to change the status quo appears absent from many of these companies. That said, recently, outside investors have begun looking at the imbalance and making changes. At Tiffany & Co. for example, the addition of minority women to the board came at the goading of outside investors amid complaints that most of the board was white men over the age of 70. The push for diversity is currently coming from the outside, but it should be met with the same vigor from the inside.
The act of moving away from homogeneity and towards diversity in organizations is hard work, but when done right, it comes with significant creative and financial benefits, that produces fresh viewpoints with responsive leadership and engaged customers.
In an industry rife with cliques that make diversity difficult, I want to break the cycle. I may not be selling to billionaires in St Tropez, but why is a personalized shopping experience reserved only for those who can afford it? Only for those who fit an outdated "traditional" model of wealth, social status and color? It’s time to shop our values. Actions speak louder than ad campaigns. An examination of who we buy from is essential to effect change.
Diversity matters. It's personal. I see The Jewelry Edit® as my chance to make a difference. I intend to lead with purpose and ensure that diversity is ingrained in our company ethos. I'm in the jewelry business, but whatever arena you’re in, we all need to speak up, overcome our shortsightedness and work together to instigate and maintain the changes we want to see.