Optimism, choosing to look at the glass half full. I have chosen optimism because it’s counterpart sucks. Running a business and being a leader is hard enough on its own, throw in a bad attitude and a negative outlook and you make this journey way harder than it has to be.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gwen Beloti.
Gwen is a Brooklyn based women’s gold jewelry designer. She fell in love with accessorizing at a really young age. She loved fashion and wanted great stylish pieces that were accessible. Today she curates a line of jewelry that is perfect for everyday, the perfect balance between minimal and subtle statement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Sure, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and absolutely love my city. I’ve always loved stylish and lavish things, whether I could afford it or not, lol. At a young age my style was influenced a great deal by accessorizing. With my weight fluctuating for most of the earlier part of my life and dealing with body image, it was difficult to find stylish clothes that fit well. What did I do? I accessorized my little heart away. My personal experience is the foundation of my brand today, it’s what our clients resonate with the most. My story and journey are heavily weaved into what I do professionally. I understand all too well the pressures of being a woman and having to maintain a certain image in order to fit in or be deemed beautiful or worthy by a male dominated society.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I chose to be a designer because I wanted to offer women what I was looking for. It was important for my brand to be accessible, inclusive, and luxe without sacrificing style or quality.
My aim with the brand is to do more than sell a product, it’s to cultivate an experience and build community; by impacting the moods and zest of women all over, making their day just a bit more golden. Making her daily accessory experience more effortless and giving her a sense of confidence is what I live for.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
So, before I designed jewelry I designed apparel. I introduced jewelry to the brand a few years ago and later made the very difficult but best decision to design just jewelry. I thought my audience and customers would completely disown me, but it was the opposite. When you get out of your own head and decide to lean into what you know in your heart is the right thing to do, that’s when the magic happens. This journey hasn’t been easy by any means, but it has been interesting and magical.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The traits most instrumental to my success are honesty, style, and vulnerability. Those probably don’t sound like typical traits someone would use to describe a leader but I’ve learned that this is where my superpower lies. In my industry, fashion, I often communicate directly with the consumer. What they gravitate to the most is the story of who I am and why I do what I do, because that translates to how I serve them. People connect with people and honesty builds trust. This type of connectedness is powerful and has paid off immensely for my business.
Secondly, style. I don’t apologize for being ridiculously obsessed and in love with style, fashion, and jewelry. It helps that I happen to be in the fashion space, so it’s on brand, but it’s who I am anyway. This sense of being unapologetic and owning what I love and what makes me happy, translates into confidence which is important in any leadership role.
Lastly, vulnerability, which might seem contradictory to the previous traits, style and confidence, but I think they’re equally important. Being vulnerable enough to recognize that we won’t always get everything right the first time or make the right decision gives you a sense of power when you own that. It keeps me from falling apart whenever something doesn’t go the way I expected. This allows me to show up and continue to get the work done. I own the hard stuff and don’t try to mask the situation. I acknowledge that there will be hard moments and won’t try to cover that up, my customers appreciate that. If our manufacturer is experiencing a shipping delay and that means the new collection won’t launch for another few weeks, it is what it is. I’ve found that being transparent has been one of our biggest sellers, figuratively speaking, because we are authentic in our truth. Our customers trust us and refer us, and our business grows.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
People are afraid of breaking away from what they think they know and what they’ve been taught. Sadly, for years’ women have been viewed as less than. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way from, say 50 years ago, but some just refuse to unlearn what they’ve been taught. Women are capable, smart, amazing, etc. but I think people, men, and society, even though they know that, play dumb sometimes. One reason is fear, fear that we’ll take their jobs, fear of being a subordinate vs being in charge, fear of appearing weak, as though there isn’t space for women and men to thrive in the same spaces. There is space for us all and we need to level the playing field.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I was at an intimate event once and the keynote speaker was a man, very well spoken and seemingly nice. I don’t doubt that he is a cool person. Throughout the presentation however, when the audience chimed in with their thoughts on the topic he seemed more dismissive of responses from the women in the audience. I can’t say whether it was intentional or not, but either way it speaks to the privilege that some have, to get to decide whose thoughts matter and whose doesn’t.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
To be her very best self, to own her power and believe that she has something great to offer the space that she is in. Maybe it’s easier said than done, in which case she should resort to gathering up her bricks. By that I mean taking stock of all that she has accomplished, recalling the lives that she’s impacted and how far she has come. Allow the proof of her worth to boost her confidence and get her through the moment.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Tuck our ego away and recognize that dimming the light of someone else doesn’t make you shine brighter. Discomfort can make people be not so nice to others at times, and that’s not fair. Don’t bring your negative energy, doubt and fear into my space. Do the work on you internally and then come out to support, fellowship, learn from, and absorb all the amazingness that powerful women owning who they are, have to offer.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Yea, I agree. I think for me it’s a lack of representation. I often find myself one of few in a room of people that don’t look like me; whether it’s in a meeting or an incubator of sorts with other entrepreneurs, or even a speaking panel. It’s so important that we see ourselves in these spaces, people that look like us, to be reassured that it’s possible to have a seat at the table. A real seat, not a low stool or a rinky dink chair but a seat just as firm and balanced as the one the guys are sitting on. The lack of representation can be so frustrating and disheartening, yet we still push through and chase the dream anyway.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Validation and having to prove your worth. Oftentimes, especially in professional settings or leadership roles, people assume that the man should be or is “in charge”. If you enter a board room and there is a woman and a man present, you’ve never met either, both are dressed similarly in what society has deemed professional, who would most people assume is the president or CEO, the man. It’s an unfortunate truth, one that I hope in years to come will no longer be.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
I’ve found it to be most difficult in your growth stages. So, for me as an entrepreneur, I’m at the stage where I’m working to scale my business and I’m spending a lot of time focusing on just that. I don’t have a lot of free time to be with friends and family and that’s hard to grasp at times. I often have to make hard decisions about how to spend my time and resources, but I’ve committed to growing my business and it’s a sacrifice that I’ve accepted. I hope that time will balance itself out a bit more soon, but for now I’m choosing to be okay with this season of sacrifice.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
I don’t know that there is such a thing as equilibrium and that is an honest answer. I think you get to a point where you recognize that you need to shift, adjust and attempt to “balance” but I don’t think 100% balance in the traditional sense is realistic. I think you come to terms with what works for you, what you are comfortable with, and what balance means to you. That’s going to be different for everyone. For some that could still be 60% work and 40% off time. I currently work more than I “play” because I’m in the growth stage. I’ve identified what I need in order to take care of myself, to have a positive mindset and to show up feeling like my best self. I personally set aside some non-negotiable me-time, not as much as I’d like, but enough at the moment. My mornings and evenings are really important, time to reflect, pray, meditate and assess.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I too, to some degree, am in the beauty industry as a jewelry designer. I place a lot of emphasis on beauty and appearance by CHOICE. I often say that we decide to adorn ourselves when it comes to dressing and accessorizing. It’s not a must but instead a choice that we opt into because it makes us feel a way, be it confident, beautiful, safe, secure or otherwise. I think there is so much freedom in this opportunity to express ourselves this way. The most beautiful thing is the choice part. Beauty looks and feels different to everyone and we get to decide what that is for us. I think it does have value for you as a leader because how you show up says a lot about you and what you want to say to the world through your dress and make up, or lack thereof. The beauty is in the choice. When you define what beauty means to you, it’s easier to not stress so much about conforming to societal beauty standards.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think there is added pressure and expectations for women to show up in a certain way and conform to what society has defined as beauty or professional for a leader. I think there are similar expectations for men in certain roles but for some reason women are scrutinized more when they don’t confirm or when they don’t “pull off” this certain look.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
So, professional development, training, etc. are more traditional tactics, and they’re great and important for obvious reasons but I’m going to focus on some of the inner work that we need to do, in order to survive and thrive. For me it’s reassurance, a safety routine, confidence, network, and optimism.
- Reassurance, owning that you are deserving. Whether it’s leading your own company, being a CEO or president, whatever the ambition, trusting that you deserve and have the right to be there in that role, is so important.
- Safety routine, your g- to, to get through. There are a few things that I can almost always do to get me out of a funk. I’ll share one, reading. For me, taking the time to read leisurely is a reminder that I care about myself enough to prioritize something that makes me happy, because I matter. We can’t lead and serve others if we don’t pour into ourselves first.
- Confidence, not always easy but necessary. Owning that you have what it takes to build, to grow and to thrive makes me feel confident. When I forget that I have the right to be confident or that I’ve earned confidence, I remind myself of all that I have achieved, big or small. I think back on the compliments, the well wishes and kudos, the endurance, and I’m reminded that I’m deserving. I have the right to stand with my head held high and own my power.
- Network, because we can’t do this on our own. Having people that you can go to for support or to build you up is so important. A community that serves you and you serve them in return, is vital.
- Optimism, choosing to look at the glass half full. I have chosen optimism because it’s counterpart sucks. Running a business and being a leader is hard enough on its own, throw in a bad attitude and a negative outlook and you make this journey way harder than it has to be.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Ahhh, this is tough but I am going to go with Tracee Ellis Ross. I just adore her. First for her spirit, then her style, and lastly her leadership. She has so many great quotes that I love, but I think my favorite is:
As a woman business owner, a black woman at that, this quote is everything. Running a business is no easy feat so giving yourself space and grace can truly be your saving grace to get you through.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.