Her husband LL COOL J may be a 90s dreamboat, but his wife, Simone Smith, is a superstar in her own right. One of the music industry's long-time love stories, the pair has been together for over two decades, since they were teenagers living in Queens, NY. In a frightening twist of fate, Smith battled a rare form of cancer, which inspired her to launch Simone I. Smith jewelry, meant to help women stay positive during trying times.
Smith, who was a stay-at-home mom while raising her three daughters and son, found her entire life suddenly shift when she was diagnosed with stage III chondrosarcoma in 2004. “It was life-altering and humbling. When the doctors tell you that you have cancer, it’s mind boggling but then you think about your children, husband, and everything, and you think ‘oh my God, what’s going to happen,” she says. “I had a two and a half year recovery. It took me two and a half years to learn how to walk again. Once I started to walk again, being able to get out and start my own business, a couple years before SIS, I launched a headscarf line [Ms Got Rocks], adorning all the bandanas [with beads and crystals].”
“My line has bold, beautiful designs that allow women to show their sense of strength, integrity and style,” says Smith. “I think women are powerful and my goal is for them to feel good and look good whenever they wear my pieces”
Her range, which she introduced in 2011, features plenty of spiritual messaging (Instagram junkies will remember seeing Smith’s “Blessed” necklace on Kendall Jenner in this Thanksgiving snap). Consisting of chunky, effervescent pieces and oversized hoop earrings, products are sold at Macy’s, Kohl's, and SimoneISmith.com.
“I grew up in the Eighties and always loved the door knockers, huge hoops,” said Smith, who donates part of her proceeds to The American Cancer Society. “I always loved the bling, I was always very fashionable.”
Smith’s signature A Sweet Touch of Hope necklaces, which feature sparkling lollipops, were inspired by her own lollipop tattoo, which she says was disfigured by her illness.
“During my surgery it looked like someone took a bite out of it, so when i started to create my line, I made a pendant that’s become iconic to me,” she says. “The candy reminds you how sweet life is, the bite shows what cancer does to a person, their family and their friends, and the logo in the center represents my strength and journey to becoming well.”
In addition to her debut namesake collection, Smith introduced two sub-lines in 2013; SIS by Simone I. Smith, available at Macy's, and Amore by Simone I. Smith, available at Kohl's. Each is meant to reach women at multiple price-points.
“I definitely want to expand the brand,” says Smith. “My goal is to take it all over the world.”
According to Smith, her husband has been extremely supportive of her newfound business journey.
“[LL] gives me a lot of feedback on my designs.” says Smith. “He named Infinite Love, it’s another signature piece. I do trunk shows and he comes out and supports me as much as his schedule allows. He and my kids are my number one fans.”
Smith who is 12 years cancer-free, counts her battle with the disease as part of the reason she found her entrepreneurial spirit.
“My journey to becoming cancer-free is what really influenced me to be an entrepreneur, and put my best foot forward to create something to believe in,” she says. “At the time I couldn’t find really affordable, yet well made hoop earrings, and something ignited in me. I wanted my children to see me become an entrepreneur and make my dreams come to life.”
Smith, who said she caught the entrepreneurship bug and will continue introducing new items and expanding the business, has been featured on QVC and has drawn a celebrity clientele including Rihanna, Rachael Ray, and Missy Elliott, who wore a pair of her signature hoops during a halftime performance at Super Bowl.
“Taking care of my family is number one. It’s still number one even though I am a female entrepreneur.”
“I had my days where I was home, I raised my kids, but I also have dreams and aspirations and my husband has supported me to reach them,” says Smith.
“I’m setting an example for my daughters and for my son, for young girls and women who look up to me and admire me and who have gone through cancer. Cancer can make a lot of people go through depression. They wonder why it’s happening to them. My cancer experience motivated me to say you know what, I can stay at home, but I’m also going to follow my dreams and create a fabulous business.”
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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.