June 16, 22
The Sterling gender bias case is finally over. It took almost 15 years and became “a hallmark of #MeToo activism.” The jeweler was accused of “gender discrimination in pay and promotions” by a class of 68,000 women who worked there primarily as shop assistants from 2004 to 2018. That’s quite a number considering the company currently has 18,000 employees across 1,500 stores.
Her lawyers argued that the company’s wage policies were detrimental to women and that they were promoted much less often than they deserved. But the Washington Post reported allegations that went beyond financial discrimination. It quoted extensively from affidavits given by female employees, claiming they were “persuaded to perform sexual favours, including at boozy company parties”.
A line has now been drawn. Sterling, part of the Signet empire, announced last Thursday that it had agreed to pay $175 million without admitting wrongdoing. This averted class-wide arbitration, which could have proved more costly than if employees had individual claims.
The first $50 million of the settlement will be swallowed up in attorneys’ fees and costs, leaving $125 million to be split between the plaintiffs, an average of $1,838 per plaintiff. News of the settlement came on the day Signet announced a 9 percent increase in first-quarter revenue to $1.8 billion.
Joseph Sellers, women’s advocate, acknowledged in a statement jointly issued with Sterling that the jeweler had made “important and meaningful changes to its workplace policies that would have positioned it as a pioneer in gender equality.”
Gina Drosos, CEO of Signet Jewelers, thanked her team for “helping create our welcoming and inclusive environment, where everyone is invited to be their authentic selves. We believe that prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion produces well-functioning teams and fosters a culture of appreciation and development.”
Signet may be aware of the need to fight gender bias, but what about the jewelry industry as a whole in the US? Here are the key findings of research commissioned by the Women’s Jewelry Association, which was formed in 1983 to provide networking opportunities for women – at a time when New York City’s Twenty-Four Karat Club was still a pure one was male group (he wouldn’t be accommodating women until 1987).
Figures come from the 2019 Gender Equality Project survey, the latest available study conducted by The MVEye. And they don’t make reading easier.
Almost half of all employees said they had seen either or were aware of gender bias in the workplace, compared to just 7 percent of owners.
Thirty percent of employees say they suffer from gender bias, but only two percent of owners say they’ve received complaints. There seems to be a worrying pattern here, with management either not addressing the issue or pretending it doesn’t exist.
Other highlights are:
• 50% of employees report being exposed to a gender biased work environment (including at trade shows) but only 9% of owners report receiving complaints.
• 38% of participating employees say they are affected by the gender pay gap, but only 2% of owners say they have received complaints
• 23% of employees say they have experienced sexual harassment, but only 5% of owners say they have received complaints.
• 16% of employees report being the victim of unwanted sexual advances; but only 3% of employers have received complaints.
The Sterling case could or should be a turning point. But if the culture is as ingrained in tens of thousands of U.S. jewelry stores as these numbers suggest, then it’s going to take some change. Sterling’s legal tangles — particularly over whether class actions qualify for arbitration — have dragged it out for 15 years. The women who complained can now treat themselves to a sapphire diamond necklace from Kay’s (1/8 ct tw) and some slap meals for their trouble. And the biggest winners are the lawyers. None of this sounds like a big incentive for change.
Have a fabulous weekend.