“Responsibility.” It’s the answer several audience members shouted out during a panel session when asked to sum up the industry’s mandate for the coming year in a single word.
Corporate, profession, and person responsibility—and topics under that wide umbrella including transparency and sustainability—were a through-line at many of the sessions featured at this year’s American Gem Society (AGS) Conclave event, which wrapped up Wednesday at the Omni Hotel in Oklahoma City after a packed three days of sessions, keynote speeches, and networking.
Charles Stanley, president of De Beers Forevermark, hosted a crowd of retailers for a session on the “State of the Industry” on the first day of the conference, and shared that De Beers’ latest consumer report found that “sustainability”—companies offsetting their carbon footprint in their operations so as not to harm the planet—is now on par with price and quality when ranking the factors consumers consider when making purchasing decisions.
And two nearly all-female panel sessions tackled two other facets of “responsibility”—leadership and legacy.
The latter was discussed at length by an all-BIPOC panel moderated by Jewelers of America COO Annie Doresca in which designers (Jam + Rico’s Lisette Scott and Made by Malyia founder Malyia McNaughton), a gem dealer (B& B Fine Gems’ Dave Bindra), a director of membership and digital content (JVC’s Elyssa Jenkins-Pérez) and a gemologist (Adrianne Sanogo) shared their complicated feelings about what legacy means to them, and the various ways they’re building a personal legacy they can feel proud of.
“For me, legacy is about making my ancestors proud,” said Jenkins-Pérez, adding that as a Black woman in the jewelry industry, she’s felt “a bit of pressure from perfectionism.” But she adds, “My mom always said ‘Leave room in the garden for the fairies to dance.’ Which means you need to leave space for mistakes…or magic to happen. You’re not going to be perfect.”
Sanogo agreed, and noted that “As a Black woman who’s a gemologist and a little older, the pressure is there to do well enough that the next generation has a seat at the table.”
Doresca chimed in that being “human” should also be a part of everyone’s legacy: “I recall my children looking at me and seeing me always working, working, and they don’t like that. So I think saying, ‘yeah, I’m human and have a life outside work’ should be part of our legacy, too.”
Designer Scott said that, “When I take the pressure off myself, that’s when I feel I’m making those great connections with people and customers.”
All six panelists said they felt compelled to help others find their way in the industry, in many cases because they received valuable guidance themselves. Scott recalled pinging industry members to ask for what amounted to 30-minute informational meetings. Sanogo said she wanted her efforts to educate the next generation up to be a key part of her legacy: “I would like to leave a legacy of education, curiosity, and learning. I want people to say, ‘she encouraged me to learn.’”
McNaughton looked around the room of retailers and said, “I see many people who are a part of my legacy here, some of whom just welcomed me with a smile, or sent me an encouraging email. So, keep it up! You plant that seed, and it continues to grow.”
Later that day, another group of thoughtful industry professionals gathered for a panel on “How to Boss” moderated by Sara Yood of the Jeweler’s Vigilance Committee (JVC).
In it, industry leaders Tiffany Stevens, CEO of the JVC, Jenny Luker, president of the Platinum Guild, and Monica Stephenson, founder of ANZA Gems, discussed past supervisors who inspired them (Luker remembers one such boss looking her in the eyes and saying “I see you. I know what you’re capable of. Be tenacious, be patient, it will come.”)
The panelists also discussed the importance of making your employees stakeholders in your organization. “Times I’ve been miserable about work have been about control,” said Stevens. “When your boss is keeping tight control and micromanaging you.”
“When we’re talking goal-setting, she’s literally at my elbow,” said Stephenson, when talking about her one employee. “She has a lot of input and I know she has to be invested in the goals as well.”
Stevens added that everyone has a loud inner critic. So, “being generous with genuine praise and doing it in real time is important. It’s sometimes hard to do it in real time, and not later, but it’s much more meaningful and strengthens the tissue of the relationship.”
When doling out challenging feedback to employees Luker said it’s helpful for her to rehearse what she wants to say, and even write it down. “We also use how-to language. Instead of saying. ‘What happened?!’ we say, ‘Help me understand how this happens. It empowers them to help fix the problem.”
And as with the previous panel session, this one ended with a conversation about compassion—for yourself and your team—a management pillar that still feels relatively new in the business world.
“Our team is all women, and if I’m not compassionate to myself, how can I insist they be passionate toward themselves,” said Stevens. “I want to show them it’s possible to do a great job and have boundaries.”
Top photo, from left: “Legacy” session panelists Elyssa Jenkins-Pérez, Malyia McNaughton, Adrianne Sanogo, Dave Bindra, Lisette Scott, and moderator Annie Doresca