On Oct. 20, the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) will host its annual Awards for Excellence Gala—this year awarding its Visionary Awards to Karen Goracke, CEO of Borsheims, and Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week.
The theme of the evening, which will be held at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York City and also streamed virtually, is Building Resilience with Responsible Business. The fundraiser will help support a trifecta of recent programs: WJA Foundation’s Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability Education Fund, its Conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, and WJA’s Masterclass leadership development series.
WJA’s evergreen mission is to help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through “networking, education, and leadership development,” and its latest initiatives reflect those goals.
The Zing Report talked to Jennifer Markas, executive director of WJA, about the organization’s current initiatives, all of which rely on funding raised through the Awards for Excellence Gala:
TZR: Hi, Jennifer! Can you tell us about WJA Foundation’s Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability Education Fund?
Jennifer Markas: We’re trying to drive our members to experts and additional resources, and to training. The first thing we did was form a partnership with New York University (NYU) to extend a member benefit to us—so our members can enroll in the online executive education program for a 20% discount. On top of that, we’re fundraising for two $2,500 scholarships for members to study at NYU’s online executive education program in corporate sustainability.
The end goal is to foster sustainability champions within our industry, and for them to then go out and kind of spread the gospel of sustainability. The NYU program offers a broader education about what sustainability is, and how that can have a positive impact within our industry to better protect people and our planet. We’re calling these business development education grants. The grants will open in September and will be open to all WJA members.
Can you also explain what WJA’s Conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion series is?
It’s a series of events that was inspired by our Northern California chapter. They started having events last year featuring BIPOC speakers and others. We ended up funding some of the speaking engagements, and we’re building off of it for more events in more places. Topics include deconstrucitng gender in jewelry, what it’s like to work in the industry as a non-binary or trans individual, and how to make the industry more equitable.
We hope to build more [collective] empathy by hearing the stories of these individuals who are working and have struggled, and also those who are succeeding. We want to highlight the different demographics and people who haven’t necessarily been given bandwidth or air time. We’re fundraising to be able to produce more of these types of events.
Can you talk a little about how WJA has been a leader in anti-discrimination in the jewelry and watch industries?
The WJA International Board recently voted to make anti-racism training mandatory for all of our chapter leaders. This includes staff, foundation board members, the board of directors for the WJA Association, chapter presidents, and presidents-elect for each chapter. So we’re talking about around 100 people. We also brought in a diversity consultant this year to work with us on a DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] strategy.
What is WJA’s Masterclass series, and how has it helped your members?
It’s about leadership development. We bring in experts to train leaders and emerging leaders on how to best run their business, run a team, and take on those soft and hard leadership skills. Peter Smith from Hearts On Fire did the inaugural session on how to identify and recruit top sales talent, and it was really great. The classes are presented through the lens of how to develop female leaders.
We also started the Women’s Financial Empowerment series this year, and we’ve so far hosted three events to educate our members on things like investing, retirement plans, and how to build financial security for ourselves. That’s something no one in the industry is doing, and we’re so glad to be offering that education.
Photo of gems by Kim Alaniz
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