Through her almost 25 years in the family business, Nadja Swarovski has not only spearheaded amazing initiatives and collaborations, but she was also the first woman to join the company’s executive board. In addition to that, Nadja launched Atelier Swarovski, the brand’s line of responsibly-sourced jewellery in 2007, and she’s since taken the lead on the company’s journey to becoming more sustainable. She’s worked with a variety of the women’s empowerment movements at the UN, and just last year, she received the Social Impact in Sustainability Award from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Nadja chatted with us about her career, the challenges women in business face, and the best advice she has for the women who want to follow in her footsteps.
On becoming the first female member of Swarovski’s Executive Board
As a business with mostly female employees and customers, we are committed to creating positive change for a more equal society. I was delighted to be named as the first female member of the Swarovski Executive Board in 2011, and I am proud to lead our efforts to empower women inside and outside of our organisation.
On supporting the United Nations’ Women’s Empowerment Principles
Collaboration to share knowledge, resources and goals is the key to success. Our wider partnership with UN Women evolved from our commitment in 2014 to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. Then in 2016, we launched our Atelier Swarovski UN bracelet to raise funds for the UN Women Safe Cities program. I was incredibly moved by the inspirational stories from women around the world that came out of the panel discussions we organised in collaboration with the UN. They were an important reminder of the real-life experiences that drive the commitments that we make as a business.
On Swarovski’s involvement in the Business for Social Responsibility research program
All true positive change starts with an understanding of the issues at play. Therefore, we worked with BSR and the Dutch Foreign Ministry to commission the ‘Women the Jewelry Supply Chain’ report to provide leadership within our industry and create wider positive impact. We know that society and business have a long way to go before we reach true equality, but this report shone important light on some of the specific barriers we need to overcome as an industry.
On being appointed a Women for Women International ambassador
The work undertaken by Women for Women International creates incredible impact around the world. I was honoured to be named an ambassador, and I am delighted that the Swarovski Foundation has been able to support Women for Women’s work with women survivors of war in Nigeria, which has helped 500 women to set up independent female-led businesses that provide income for their families. These women all had the power and the talent to succeed – they just needed the right support and resources to do this.
On the challenges women in business face today
While we have made a great deal of progress in diversity and representation across our business, we have recognised that there is an ongoing problem with unconscious bias in decision making. Therefore, we have introduced an innovative Unconscious Bias training program, which we are rolling out with global colleagues to help challenge inequality. We are also looking to the future and the challenges of automation – data suggests that this has a disproportionate effect on women, so we are exploring new upskilling programs to ensure female workers are fully supported through the changes driven by AI and other new technologies.
On the women who inspire her
There are an enormous number of women who have inspired me and continue to inspire me today. In New York, Eleanor Lambert, the founder of the CFDA and my first boss in the fashion industry, was a tremendous inspiration to me. The late Zaha Hadid was an incredible mentor, one of our most cherished collaborators, and a woman who excelled in a male-dominated field of architecture.
On her best advice
I always advise people to focus on education, because knowledge gives you true confidence. Then team that knowledge with kindness: modern leadership is about collaboration, not competition. In addition, my father has been a huge influence on my life and a provider of support, and he has always used a German saying which translates to ‘hard work paves the way for success.’ I cannot put it better than that.
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Written by - Tara MacInnis