A cutting edge business plan in today’s crowded marketplace must be more than simply spreadsheets, quarterly growth and profit margins. True success is measured by collectively using every avenue available for growing a vibrant community of customers, suppliers, distributors and artisans, and committing to a corporate culture of trust, quality and compassion. When I found Nashelle Jewelry and learned of their long-standing track record of doing all the right things, I fell in love.
As the new managing partner for Nashelle Jewelry, I firmly embrace the company’s signature mission of donating one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold. I strongly believe that all responsible business entities have a unique calling to give back to our society in a tangible and meaningful way. Our company has a targeted legacy of providing those in need with nutritional help through a variety of nonprofit, neighborhood-based programs including Feeding America and NeighborImpact.
When Heather, my friend and business partner, first started Nashelle Jewelry in 1999, her goal was to use her talent simply to make enough money to support herself and her children. She wrapped jewelry in her living room, marketed at local festivals and was an iconic presence at a makeshift table with a handmade sign in the town square of Bend, Oregon. Word quickly spread throughout the region about her beautiful creations and enamored shoppers stood in line to purchase her newest designs. Often, a local bride would have Heather design a unique necklace to perfectly complement the theme, dress and style for her wedding day.
Not surprisingly, given Heather’s talent and popularity in her hometown, word spread through the Northwest about this budding, young jewelry designer, and over the past 17 years, she has been featured in major publications such as Vogue, Glamor and Cosmopolitan. Her stunning creations have graced the runways of major fashion weeks and star-studded award ceremonies across the globe and are carried in thousands of independent retailers and specialty boutiques. Heather’s keen eye for beauty grew a very successful business in a very competitive marketplace.
In tandem with Nashelle’s increasing popularity and profits, Heather made a heartfelt and courageous decision that she wanted to share her company’s success with children and families in need of the very basics of life. As a woman, a mother and an entrepreneur, she deftly focused on the needs of low-income families and banked in karma the knowing smiles of her children as they learned by her example with every dollar she passed along.
While Heather was busy creating Nashelle Jewelry, I was working on growing my own companies in a variety of industries, including retail sales of children’s clothes, a restaurant, a rapid delivery shipping company and investment real estate. My favorite business ventures are those where I have the opportunity to form connections with passionate, creative, smart entrepreneurs with crystal clear visions of what they want their business to become. It’s a unique personal bonus when I have a piece of the marketing puzzle from my own past experiences coupled with the financial resources to be able to help extraordinary people achieve their goals.
Nashelle Jewelry came to my attention in 2014 through social media after I recognized and respected many of the people who were commenting on, liking and promoting this unique brand. Surprisingly, I learned that Heather was also a product of Juneau, Alaska, and we had even attended the same high school. It’s fun to follow and celebrate success stories from your “homies,” and I was immediately drawn to Nashelle’s no-frills mission of giving back. I contacted her and congratulated her on the success of her brand, letting her know that if she were ever looking for investors, I would like to explore that opportunity.
We started following each other through social media, discovering that we both were newly married with large families. (We have 11 kids between the two of us!) It was fun to keep up with the posted adventures of our two families, and I stayed keenly aware of Nashelle’s progress.
By 2016, Nashelle found ever greater success in worldwide markets and was filling more plates of food than Heather had ever dreamed of, but growth offers new and often unforeseen challenges. Heather reached out to me last December during a stressful Christmas season and told me that she was ready to talk about taking on investors to help manage the remarkable growth of the business.
My husband and I journeyed to Bend just after Christmas and met Heather and her family for the first time. I immediately knew that she was the exact person with whom I wanted to be in business. Most impressive was her dedication to the mission of donating “one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold,” which was fulfilled even during times when she wasn’t able to take a paycheck for herself. That sacrifice was one of many she made to maintain the integrity of her business culture during the 17 years of growing her brand.
When we first sat down to discuss the vision for the future of Nashelle, we immediately agreed that growth and profits, while critically important, are secondary to promoting the charitable mission on which Nashelle was built. In early 2017, Heather and I decided to write the next chapter of Nashelle as a partnership, and we are diving headfirst into our respective roles. Heather is, and always will be, the designing force and creative director behind the brand. I have taken over the day-to-day management of the business activities to support the ongoing sales and growth. Nashelle is rapidly approaching 500,000 plates of food donated, and with significant orders and new large retail partnerships coming online every day, we hope to sustain and expand this effort exponentially in the years to come.
Being a woman in business isn't easy. The constant demands of family along with the pressures that we all put on ourselves daily to succeed in business is a tough rodeo ride. We are all striving to be the best mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter and business partner we can be. The task is often overwhelming. One solution I’ve found to that relentless nagging feeling of “I’m not doing anything well enough” is to build my own daily report card on two strategies that are at the very core of my professional career.
The first criteria for my well-being is to support amazing women in their kaleidoscope of daily tasks by making sure that we can always share openly those irksome pressure points that we face around every corner, every day. I work diligently at creating and refining a personal culture of compassion and uncompromising support for those women experiencing the very real fears of failing to be perfect in everything we do.
The second component of a meaningful life is in finding creative and business-friendly ways for giving back. My own investment of time and resources into Nashelle has been one of the most emotionally rewarding ventures of my career. Sharing success with others in need of your skills and resources goes together like a wink and a smile. It just feels good to give back to those who haven’t found their own path to success yet.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.