FEATURE: Helping women up the career ladder

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British jewellery designer Harriet Kelsall gives Professional Jeweller a glimpse of the uphill struggle women face in the jewellery industry and how she looks to empower those women.

Kelsall’s jewellery career has grown from humble beginnings working at the kitchen table 19 years ago, to now heading up a team of 32 and sitting on the National Association of Jewellers committee as vice chairman. As an influential member of the industry, the jeweller looks to empower other women trying to climb the jewellery trade career ladder.

While Kelsall’s self-titled company, Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, now boasts 75% female staff, the journey to this point has not always been a straightforward one for the founder.

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Kelsall has experienced sexual harassment in her career, though not in the jewellery industry. She has also felt belittled in boardrooms in the past because of her gender, explaining: “I have occasionally found that when sitting around a board table people might try to patronise me because of who they think I am with a slight impression that I should be patted on the head and listened to in a certain way.”

Kelsall continues: “A man can probably just say something and people will assume it’s backed up with experience and knowledge, whereas sometimes when a woman says the same short sentence you verify yourself, knowledge and experience a lot more than if you were a man around a board table.”

Now in a position to throw the ladder down for other women, Kelsall is keen to promote practices that level the playing field and give women the chance to pursue a fruitful career in the jewellery trade.

At the forefront of her plan to empower industry women is equal employment and promotion, a system which Kelsall finds allows females to grow within her business.

“When we recruit we interview whoever looks good and we don’t look at what gender they are, what race they are, whether they’re disabled or how old they are,” Kelsall shares. “We just look at who they are on paper and then we interview the best candidates and the best candidate will get the job.”

“Whenever we do have a new role come up our first instinct isn’t always to hire from outside, we look at that equally with what we’ve got inside. We find promoting people from within is a fantastic way to grow your team and keep the right team.”

With the right workforce in place it’s then a matter of supporting and nurturing them, especially when they reach significant junctions, such as having a child.

For employers across the UK maternity can spark a number of issues, one of which is whether to return to the company or not. For the jewellery industry this often means valuable workers fall out of the profession for years or never properly transition back into the brand.

KITBut for Kelsall offering flexible solutions, such as part-time work and ‘keeping in touch’ days, rewards her with more well-rounded and talented workers. She shares: “When the first person who worked with us wanted to come back from maternity leave part-time we were terrified. Instead of just throwing our hands up and saying ‘we can’t do it’, at which point we would have lost her, we decided to just do it anyway and see what happened and it worked really, really well.”

Although being flexible isn’t always easy, for Harriet Kelsall Jewellery it is worth it when a new mother returns to work armed with new skills.

She remarks: “When they come back to work, even if they were the most brilliant employee in the world before they left they are even more brilliant now. They’ll just get straight on with the job at hand and they’ll bring a whole armful of other skills that you can’t even believe how good they are.

“It will be worth it, not only for you as an employer but it will mean the industry doesn’t lose a valuable person who can go on to do amazing things if you support them through it.”

But for many women the issue isn’t just about working hours, many struggle to fight the anxiousness of rejoining the working world having taken a year out. A solution to this issue which is not well known, and mildly taken up, is the ‘keeping in touch’ programme.

The Government scheme (see panel for more details), which Kelsall offers in her business, allows a new mother to return from maternity leave for up to ten days during the year for paid work to remove the stigma and ease them back into the working environment.

It’s these leadership techniques that have helped Kelsall achieve and maintain a strong team of staff, but the journey doesn’t end here. Looking to the future she is hopeful more women will make their way to boardrooms, something she is armed with advice about.

Kelsall encourages women to reach their goals by taking pigeon steps rather than going in all “guns blazing like a man”, and to consider an overlooked practice: mentorship.

“I think women don’t realise they need a mentor. They think it’s about business, but it’s about their own confidence so it would be interesting to think about how we could build female confidence,” she explains.

Once in the boardroom, many women may find themselves facing the same patronisation that Kelsall has experienced. If so, she advices: “Talk firmly and fairly about what you believe in, in your own voice. That will show what you can do. Don’t wear your sexuality like a chip on your should because it’s going to waste your time and energy and make you fail. Accept your feminity, accept that it’s alright.”

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