“Women of the Diamond Industry” focuses on the issue of gender equality along the entire diamond and jewelry supply chain. The series provides a platform for women in the industry to tell their own stories and describe the particular challenges they have faced in their careers.
The tenth article in the series is authored by Colleen Rooney, Chief Communications and ESG Officer of Signet Jewelers, the world’s largest specialty retailer of diamond jewelry.
Finding Purpose in the diamond business
that’s life-transforming and game-changing
A long time ago, I was given a gift from the heart at a time when I needed it most. After losing my grandmother – “Mommom” Rooney – to cancer, I ached to the core of my being not knowing how I would exist without her nurturing and truly unconditional love. When she passed, she gifted me her jade ring.
Her ring was a large, deep green jade housed in a flower-like setting of a subtle, yet ornate gold. She wore it every day, proudly. It was part of who she was, and to me it was a lifeline, a touchstone.
The ring was also a symbol of my relationship with my grandmother. I was her jade and she the strong gold metal that held it in place and enabled it to shine. That ring was us.
Today, it serves as more than an heirloom; it’s something that I hold onto whenever I need her hardy laugh, whispers of encouragement or just the confidence of knowing she’s up there – somewhere – looking over me.
I learned later that jade came to symbolize “the stone of heaven.” It’s considered pure and enduring enough to inspire the wearer’s highest spiritual aspirations. It certainly keeps me connected to my grandmother!
The author, Colleen Rooney, Chief Communications and ESG Officer of Signet Jewelers, wearing the ring inherited from her grandmother.
Diamonds as a metaphor for love and pressure
As I look back today, it sometimes seems that my life and career were inexorably drawn to the jewelry industry, in ways I couldn’t see at the time.
The author, as young child, being held by her grandmother, to whom she remains connected spiritually through the jewelry she wears.
It’s still so magical to me and goes to the heart of individual spirit and identity. Diamonds inspire everything from art to music. Just this past year Rihanna performed at America’s famous Super Bowl Halftime Show, singing her 2012 hit, “Diamonds.” Her empowering lyrics of “shine bright like a diamond” – always strike me – it’s a call to action to be brilliant, multifaced and pure.
Diamonds are a metaphor for me in two ways: they are symbols of love and they are made by pressure. They represent the best that we aspire to be and they inspire the best that we can be, even in the most demanding of circumstances.
I was always intrigued by the illustrious and mystifying world of diamonds. What must it had been like to unearth the first such rock that housed these beautiful and multifaced stones called diamonds? How rare and glorious is it that these shimmering symbols of love take billions of years to form and find their way to us? And what of the creativity and mastery it takes for those who design jewelry – and those who style these expressions of love and celebration.
A ‘Purpose’ as a trajectory for success
What we aspire to be is all about Purpose. It wasn’t until 2019 that I was invited to be part of a company where Purpose would be defining and game-changing.
Gina Drosos, Signet Jewelers’ CEO, asked me to join her in her transformation of the corporation, and in creating a legacy of love.
For those not familiar with Signet – we are the world’s largest specialty retailer of diamond jewelry, today with a portfolio of 11 consumer brands.
Gina, a proven transformative leader having built successful businesses at Procter & Gamble, saw a lot of upside and potiential in Signet. When she stepped to the helm as CEO she had a few convictions, the most important of which was her belief in its people and the power of Purpose to unleash their full potential.
Together, and with the influence of so many like-minded colleagues, we defined a Purpose that set the trajectory for the success we’ve achieved over the past five years. Today, we are a truly transformed and Purpose-inspired company. We believe that we exist to Inspire love – and the more love there is the world, the better the world is for all of us.
We enable all people to celebrate life and express love, through our jewelry. We also believe in using our voice and actions to be the change we want to see in all the communities we serve. We stand for love which compels us to love one another and the customers we serve, to love the role that our products play in people’s lives, and to love our planet.
Colleen Rooney (left), together with Signet CEO Gina Drosos, who she describes as a transformative leader. (Photo courtesy Signet Jewelers)
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Our Purpose also shaped our culture – the environment in which we live and breathe every day.
This was incredibly important to me and to my wife, Barb – to be part of an organic culture that invited me to be my best self; one absent of judgement, exclusion, or persecution of any kind.
Ours is a refreshing culture that continually encourages my colleagues to be their true selves both at work and within our communities. I faced the difficult challenge of working for a homophobic leader once, much earlier in my career, which caused me to keep my private life, well, private. I will never forget those days as it was an unhealthy culture for everyone. That experience, more than any other, taught me the power of leading with love and respect.
Signet Jewelers CEO Gina Drosos (seventh from right) flanked by the corporation’s diverse leadwrsho team. The author stands fifth from left. (Photo courtesy Signet Jewelers)
Gina’s belief in diversity, equity and inclusion was a primary reason I wanted to join Signet. In addition to being welcome with open arms, I shared Gina’s belief that businesses that are diverse, equitable and inclusive will consistently outperform companies that are not, especially over the long term.
With this belief, she was determined to build a leadership team steeped in diversity, with different points of views, life experiences and insights. It would be a leadership team which today is comprised of 74 percent female leaders, with 42 percent women and BIPOC diversity on Signet’s Board of Directors.
Today, I am proud of Signet Jewelers being certified for a third consecutive year as a Great Place to Work™ company. It’s no coincidence that our Purpose and this tremendous distinction align.
Pressure as a driver of growth during COVID
Beyond the inspiring allure of Purpose, Signet also attracted me because of the opportunity to embrace pressure as a powerful driver of growth and personal transformation.
I knew coming in that the pressure would be demanding. The business was not yet on a track to consistently growth and it would be hard work to turn it around. What I could not anticipate, of course, was how much that pressure would intensify.
Just as I started learning the intricacies of our industry, COVID-19 hit us all. We were faced, like so many others, with an incredible challenge: to shut down our stores and operations almost overnight. We never debated the choice! Putting the safety of our team and our customers first, despite its near-term business and financial impacts, was the clear and obvious priority.
We then turned our attention to how we could shut down without hunkering down – how we could turn this crisis into an accelerator of our potential. We knew our business strategy of Inspiring Brilliance was right. We also knew that our values and culture were rock solid, and that our agile team members would pivot to do what was necessary in the wake of the uncertainty.
While locked down in our homes, we turned to each other – our 30,000 team members – to figure it out. We asked ourselves: How might we take this opportunity to show that “Pressure Makes Diamonds.”
A sales representative of Zales, a Signet subsidiary, showing a client diamond jewelry during the COVID pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Signet Jewelers) .
Our team accelerated our growth strategies, quickly learning the art of virtual sales and collaboration. We did what others in the industry said could not be done: we changed the way customers shopped for and purchased fine jewelry – not just in stores, but online and on their devices.
In a very short timeframe we went from less than 5 percent in eCommerce sales to over 20 percent. I have a learned many things in my relatively brief tenure in this industry, but one of the indelible lessons came courtesy of Gina. “Never waste a crisis.”
An industry embodying the meaning of life
The COVID-19 crisis proved to be empowering for all of us as we navigated its wake, we also learned a vital lesson: Love can withstand. As Kay Jewelers said at that time, “Love is Unstoppable.”
In fact, all around the world, COVID-19 was the impetus for people to double down on love, to not take what is so precious and special in our lives for granted, to always let those you love know how you feel.
To me, our industry is an embodiment of the very meaning of life in that we give people the opportunity to convey an eternal sense of love through a precious gem or diamond. Jewelry has been in society in one form or another for 25,000 years. It has adorned high priests and noble queens as well as granddaughters wearing a gifted jade heirloom. It has signified strength, mystical powers, and of course, beauty. It is in lore and fables and everyday life worn by everyday people.
What I have the good fortune to do today will never be lost on me. I am beyond grateful to be a part of this industry and community; to be intertwined with something that has such incredible power to create indelible imprints on the hearts of others.
The challenge I relish today is to make the most of our Purpose – with clarity and, where needed, courage – and to meet and learn from all of the incredible and talented people in our industry. It’s a challenge I look forward to with open arms. If you would like to connect, please reach out!