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Jewelry Store Owners Sound Off On Sexual Harassment, Women’s Rights

Most of the female store owners in our Brain Squad feel our industry still has a ways to go.




  • I personally have been harassed in a store, and have been slighted many times in the past. I started in this business when women were not working in the jewelry business that much. I actually had one job interview in which an owner asked if I typed. It was his main question about my qualifications and abilities—after I had been in the business 10 years and was half-finished with my gemologist degree. I am so happy every time I go to a show or convention and see the number of young professional women now representing our industry, from sales and management to design and goldsmiths. It is just really encouraging to see how much it has changed from when I started. — Robin L., Wichita, KS
  • It’s still a business FOR women that’s run by men. Yes, not all owners are men. There may not be as much fanny patting behavior as in yesteryear, but a penis is still a good thing to own if you want to be taken seriously as an authority figure or as an expert. — Erin H., Lancaster, PA
  • Yes, I’ve witnessed and been harassed myself. Still lots of old school boys’ club mentality, but I do feel there is a change happening with more second and third generation ownership coming along, as a lot are women! — Nicole S., Whistler, BC
  • Of course I have, like back in the day, working in the finance industry in a professional capacity, and being told that “we don t have a professional pay scale for women, so you will be paid on the clerical scale.” No joke! But in my jewelry career, I used to have the guys in the jewelry buildings look at me with contempt, saying, “ Women can’t be setters” and the like, or refusing to take me seriously and direct me to the services I needed, even though they turned out to be next door! But time has passed, and things are getting better. — Eve A., Evanston, IL
  • I think it is OK as far as the awareness of the modern day. Unfortunately, when you have two sexes working together, you will never, ever completely remove equal rights and “harassment,” as it’s in the human DNA to propagate. — Mark Y., Oxford, MI
  • I think we’re doing great. Never seen it here and we have an all-female staff and goldsmith. — Robert M., Swanswa, MA
  • Everyone is too sensitive these days. I have heard questionable comments from both men and women. How those comments are regarded is based on whether you like the person or not. A handsome young manager makes a slightly suggestive comment to a young female salesperson, and she giggles and moves on. If an overweight manager in his 50s makes the same comment, he’s considered a dirty old man and a complaint is filed. I don’t think it’s an industry problem at all. It exists everywhere as it always has and probably always will. — Rick S., Gainesville, FL
  • In an industry run by men, sexism is inevitable. I think it is best to learn everything you can and work at being the best. Success brings respect. — Dorothy V., Tallahassee, FL
  • We are a small women-owned business with all female employees. It’s a non-issue. I do know of many women who have worked for male-owned companies who have told me horrible stories of being yelled at and emotionally abused. I find this behavior to be unacceptable in any workplace. — Betsy B., San Francisco, CA
  • I’ve witnessed discrimination from customers specifically. I’ve had male customers say inappropriate things to my female staff. I’ve also had customers refuse to work with female staff, asking to talk to the “man in charge” or using disrespectful names like “sweetie.” I’ve never had a female vendor rep visit my store, so I think we’ve got a ways to go. — Chris W., Marquette, MI
  • I think that the advent of more women owning businesses has naturally caused positive change to happen, but of course I’ve seen it happen and had it happen to me. There’s always work to be done, and we all — men and women — need to positively contribute. — Sandra L., Vulcan, AB
  • No problem at work. I find at shows that if my husband (who does not work in the store) is with me, all answers to questions I ask will be directed to him, even though my badge identifies me as the buyer/owner. — Linda B., Shelbyville, TN
  • This industry has inadequate training to be preventative or even proactive after an issue. By and large, the industry and its arbitration systems are set up to stall and delay. — Alan L., Cape May, NJ
  • I worked at Kay Jewelers in the early ‘80s, and sexual harassment was common. You either put up with it or quit. Times have changed, thank God! — Doreen V., Bethlehem, PA
  • My sense is that it’s certainly better than some, especially in smaller companies. However, the Signet case has been eye-opening in a way that illustrates far too many things have not changed at all. Every working woman has had to put up with demeaning comments made simply out of thoughtlessness or lack of awareness, and we still do, but overt discrimination seems to be better. — Georgie G., Palo Alto, CA
  • I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and what (harassment) was done more openly is now done more privately, but it still happens. — Lyla I., Oak Lawn, IL
  • Personally, I have never witnessed it in our stores. The industry, along with the rest of the nation, pretty much just gives lip service to equal rights and respect for women. I am hoping that younger generations will fare better in the future as the old guard retires. — Kate M., Bethlehem, PA
  • My degree is in accounting, but I was working human resources when a job came up for a cost accountant. The daughter of an engineer, my love for manufacturing ran deep, and I wanted the job. I asked the head of HR to allow me to interview for the job. He said, “You are a woman, you’ll never get it.” I insisted. I interviewed with the VP of accounting, and knew I had the job 15 minutes after it started. The company closed a few years later, and of the 125 people, I was one of the last six out the door. It made me mad when I was told no, because I was a woman, but I stuck to my guns. When that job ended, I created our company and incorporated us, and the issue of equal rights has never been an issue here ever since. — Jo G., Oconomowoc, WI
  • I have witnessed sexual harassment my entire career in this industry, and actually in every place I have worked since I entered the workforce 36 years ago. I am a pretty woman; I never gave it too much thought, really. Also, when I was younger before I started my store, I was the victim of discrimination. I worked for a small chain of repair kiosks in the malls. I found out I was making less per hour than the male bench jewelers, with the same or less experience than I had at the time. As far as now, I would like to think it’s better. As an owner of a 25 year jewelry store started from nothing, I do command more respect from my peers and employees, but I do still see it now and again with salesmen. Honestly, I don’t see it ever going away, in any business. I am glad to see the tolerance levels have dropped, but at the end of the day, we are all just human! — Pamela R., Lauderdale by the Sea, FL
  • There have been cases where things have been said that were somewhat inappropriate in a work environment, and I make sure they know it isn’t acceptable. Done and over with and they know where everyone stands. — Rita W., Rocky Mount, NC
  • I have not personally seen harassment or discrimination in the workplace, but we are a small independent store that operates like a family. Over the years, I have had employees that were foreign-born working on a green card, as well as minority women in management roles. I believe the equal rights issues being addressed today in our industry seem to be in the larger companies where they have less of a family type dynamic. It is all about respect, and from my years in the jewelry industry, some employees in the larger companies are willing to step on someone to get ahead. I think that this industry is doing better to bring the actions of a few to light so these things do not happen again. — Eric S., West Springfield, MA
  • It’s doing well. I believe our industry has always focused on women as they are the reason we manufacture most jewelry. So to ignore them or treat them unfairly is to cut the throat of the industry. — William B., Naples, FL
  • I have witnessed it, and I put an immediate stop to it. I’ve dropped vendors because of their behavior towards the women that I work with. No room for harassment in my store. — Garry Z., Chicago, IL
  • Years ago, we had a few vendors that would not talk to my mom and I, so we would bring my dad (not in the business) as our token male. I have other vendors that even a couple of years ago always make the pitch to my husband; he lets them finish and then informs them that I am the jeweler. I love watching them apologize for ignoring me. Things are getting easier for women owners, but we still don’t get equal respect. — Amanda L., Steinbach, MB
  • I feel better about a woman’s role in the jewelry business. The business is progressing, and we are seeing more women run ownership and management on the retail side. Manufacturing and gemstone still seems to be male-oriented. — Mariana H., Chas, SC
  • Not sure what term to use … but I was told from Day One of opening that I would fail in the jewelry industry because I was a woman. Told over and over it was a man’s world and I would not be successful. — Joan L., Muscle Shoals, AL
  • Yes, I have been sexually harassed and discriminated against. Progress is being made. It will be generations before we see real change. — Cathy G., Frankfort, IN
  • I worked for Kay’s back in the ‘80s … the stories I could tell … To answer your question, “customers” still perceive “jewelers” as being men. I have been in this business for 30 years, and I still have people ask me when the “man” will be in. When pressed, they say, “You know, the man, the real jeweler.” I can have a ton of framed papers of my accomplishments in the jewelry industry, but they still think of “jewelers” as being men. Instead of dwelling on that, I move on to show them why I can handle all of their jewelry needs. — Susan K., Lewisburg, PA
  • I experienced discrimination when I was younger by vendors. 44 years ago, there weren’t as many store owners or gemologists that were women. I was treated as though I wasn’t very bright. I used it to my advantage, learning who I could trust because of some of the smoke they were blowing up my skirt. It was disheartening, however. When I was an AGS member, a fellow member looked at my name tag and said, “You’re a store owner? Usually the pretty ones are salespeople!” I’ve never forgotten that one either. Often it is thought pretty can’t be intelligent, especially by men. — Kas J., Jefferson City, MO
  • This problem seems to be mostly prevalent in the big corporate chains, where power and egos are much more prevalent and the atmosphere is much more cutthroat to advance and succeed. I do not see much at all in family-owned stores where the couple are both running the business and typically have several family members involved. We are much more involved in our families and the community and charitable works. Our trust and reputations are paramount to our continuing business. — James G., Memphis, TN
  • Women sell more jewelry than men. After 30 years in this business, never witnessed sexual harassment. — Barry F., Bardonia, NY
  • In my past careers, it was very prevalent. If you were an attractive single female, it meant you were in the market like a slab of meat. Butt grabs, boob comments, even blatant disrespect because as a woman, “I just wouldn’t understand.” My husband travels with me to JCK and AGTA often … vendors will ALWAYS speak to him first unless they know me. He is the tech guy for my store (handles our website and computers only). He will always turn and point to me as the person to speak to, and many vendors (depending on the culture) get very confused and try to talk to him anyway. Money talks, and when I don’t feel mutual respect, I just spend my dollars somewhere else. We’ve come a long way, but there are miles to go. — Jennifer F., Colorado Springs, CO
  • Yes and not nearly enough with this horrible anti-female administration!! — Donna T., Newtonville, MA
  • I have witnessed sexual harassment and discrimination years ago working for a large jewelry importer and manufacturer. I think our industry as a whole does a great job today regarding equal rights and respect for women. — Frank S., Plantation, FL
  • Signet is proof our industry is not doing too well in gender equality. Independents are probably doing generally better because women run an increasing number of stores. — Richard F., Mobile, AL
  • I personally have never seen or experienced any issues of sexual harassment. Interestingly though, I was talking to a colleague, and the discussion came up that he needed some help but was afraid to hire a female unless they could be vetted by a friend or colleague for fear of a harassment issue. — Murphy M., Kalispell, MT
  • No, I’ve never witnessed sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. And I worked for Signet for 12 years! — Gary W., Richmond, VA
  • I am not a fan of Signet and the way they conduct business. They have ruined jewelry in the minds of many of their victims … er, I mean customers. They just settled a lawsuit for all the BS they lay on their customers with credit — now it is time to pay the piper for their years of treating women like crap. Could not happen to a nicer bunch of folks IMHO. — Cliff Y., Lowell, MI
  • I have never witnessed any harassment or discrimination, and I feel like our industry in general is doing a good job of staying ahead of these issues. That’s my take, though, and I’m a small business owner. Maybe things are different on the corporate side? — Marc M., Midland, TX
  • We would never discriminate against women. We have never had any sexual discrimination complaints or issue, but if there was, it would be a firing offense after investigation. — John P., Winter Park, FL
  • I have been a victim of sexual discrimination. Prior to me venturing out into my own business, I worked for several different jewelry chains. The men were ALWAYS paid more and their opinions were always more respected and listened to. I think it is unfortunate that an industry that caters to women can be so disrespectful of their women associates. — Patty H., Cedarburg, WI
  • Not an issue for us. Glad the bad guys are getting exposed. Should be consequences for bad behavior. — Greg R., Prescott, AZ
  • As a female jeweler, oh the F’in stories I could tell! Bout time this comes to the forefront. Now if you could equalize pay, I’d be overjoyed! — Denise O., La Grange, IL
  • I liked it the old way when you could have fun and still respect them. It’s gone too far the other way. Just because some men are jerks. — Doug S., Hartford, WI
  • Yes, in the ‘70s, it was almost the norm. I didn’t change my last name when I got married, as I saw other women get married and then their careers ended. We had a small wedding out of town and I never told my boss. Left that company three years later for a more progressive (i.e., woman friendly) company. — Rosanne K., South Bend, IN

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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