As March is Women's History Month, it is fitting that KO’s Power of Women’s Group hosted a Zoom event on March 6 with four accomplished women, sharing their insights and experiences in business, non-profits, and academia. Moderated by the POW leaders Katharine Doar ’22, Emma Levinbook ’22, and Olivia Reynolds ’22, the panel featured Jesse Lazowski ’08, chief executive officer and creative director of Marlo Laz Jewelry, Abigail Mancinelli ’14 Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Dr. Karen Diaz Meaike, DSW P ’19, ’22 community advocate, and Lori Goodman Novak ’86, president, Northstar Pulp and Paper.
The KO Power of Women is an initiative to connect women in the KO community with middle and high school-aged girls to develop an authentic dialogue around issues of women’s leadership and empowerment.
The following is a transcript of the event.
Who is your role model and why?
AM - My mom served as a legislative aide and loved the work. In the 45-minute car ride to school, she shared what was happening in the office, how state politics could be interesting, and how they have a direct impact on our everyday lives. My advisor is also a role model. He’s the hardest working person and never wavered from kindness. My student mentor also has had a positive impact on me and helped me navigate the most difficult aspects of teaching and writing a dissertation proposal.
JL - My parents are the kindest and most selfless people. Their generosity of spirit is amazing. My grandmother makes everyone feel so good, and my aunt who is an entrepreneur was a huge influence.
KDM - My two grandmothers for their strength and their fortitude with everything they endured. They instilled in me how to figure out to achieve your goals.
LGN - My grandmother taught me about unconditional love and what family really is. My other grandmother got her Ph.D. in her 50s and went on to teach up until her 80s. She’s been an inspiration to always keep learning. When I came into work full-time in the family business, my dad taught me that the harder you work, the more opportunities you will have.
Why did you start your jewelry business?
JL - I started a jewelry business at 13 and started Marlo Laz at 24. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and there was never a question for me that I was going to start my own business. Running a business was always made to seem so exciting in my house. My dad would come home from work and tell us these amazing stories. My mom taught me to hand bead jewelry at the kitchen table, and my family would go bead together. My great aunt has a jewelry store and she exposed me to antique jewelry and amazing treasures and opened my eyes as to what jewelry could be. I first studied business in college and then switched to art history because I wanted a foundation larger than jewelry.
When did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?
AM - While at Texas A&M in a political science research class, my professor said I would be a good fit for grad school. He told me it’s free and they pay you a stipend. When I graduated, I started a finance job in May and by September I called my professor and said ‘You were right’ and he helped me through the application process. I realized I missed the research and political aspect at school.
What is the biggest lesson learned?
KDM - When you are working in human services, you can’t predict human behavior. There are a lot of ups and downs. It's emotionally difficult and mentally taxing. The work-life balance is very important in order to be impactful. It can be very rewarding. Social work isn’t about solving problems but helping people navigate their circumstances.
I initially wanted to be an attorney and wanted to be someone’s voice. In social work, I realized I could do that. I found my passion in other ways. Even on a bad day, it is a rewarding effort.
JL- What you put in is what you get out. People might forget what you say but they won't forget how you made them feel. That's always something to consider when interacting with people in business.
What struggles or roadblocks did you have in business?
JL - Because I am in the fashion world, a female-dominated business, I didn't face the same roadblocks. My age was a roadblock. You are very vulnerable and not fully developed in your confidence. I had to learn to create my own opportunities and also not to take every critique personally. Even though you have the support of family, you have to believe in yourself. If one buyer didn’t like a piece, I would take it personally. I had to learn to stick to my intuition. The company wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t push through.
KDM - My grandmothers taught me how to deal with obstacles and critiques. Social work melds all the ills of the world but it also brings out a lot of beautiful things. When I started college, I had a difficult time transitioning academically from coming from high school. I had difficulty with a professor who dismissed me because I was a young lady of color, because of the culture that I came from, and because my socio-economic background was not the same as those at Trinity College. At that moment, that could have derailed my career, but the lessons learned from grandmothers - what is your goal and your purpose and how are you going to get there - I kept that in mind. You have to learn how to navigate the community that you are working in and balance compassion with authority. Always remember, you get what you give, and you need to respect others whether they respect you are not. That takes you far along the way. Some doors closed at first but being able to respectfully and intelligently express what someone needs so that you can be heard is very important.
How is the process of writing a dissertation similar to the senior thesis? Are there any parallels or advice you can give?
AM - The Senior Thesis is a microcosm of the dissertation process. You start with a topic that you want to explore, do research, and write a long paper with your interpretation. The dissertation boils down to this but it’s just more drawn out. With the dissertation, you have to write an outline of what you want to do and go in front of the dissertation committee and answer questions. This is called “defending your prospectus”. I'm now in the process researching of writing the chapters and doing the thesis right now. I started working on the dissertation in February 2019. I defended the prospectus in May 2020, and plan on presenting in April 2023. I know a lot of you are probably have started the senior thesis process. It helps to pick a topic that you are really interested in. You are going to be working on this for a while so you don’t want it to be something that you dread working on every time you return to it. I’ve been working on my dissertation for years now and I still love my topic and coming back to my research.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
KDM - During my career, I was a social worker, then supervisor, and then manager. At every level, it removes you from the actual fieldwork. For me, working with fold in the community hands-on was my passion. Even though I was removed from the community, that didn’t make me less effective. I could influence those I supervised and those in the field and teach them how to conduct and navigate those relationships within the community. For me, that’s the most rewarding, knowing that I was impactful in that way. Also, which is, for the most part, a rarity and not typical, I was very blessed to have received a call or two back from people that I helped. In child welfare, you are really getting people at their worst sometimes and people aren't really thankful for your intervention. So for them to look back and realize what you did for them, it’s a huge growth on their part. More than just the thank you to me, it was just seeing that person’s growth was my reward.
How did being excluded in the family business initially affect your career path?
LGN - I didn’t choose to go into the family business to start, but I didn’t even look into business. It was not something in my future. I thought, maybe subconsciously, that I wasn’t welcomed in my family business so what other business would want me? For me, being excluded made me work that much harder. My family is a typical family business where you either sink or swim. And I wasn’t going to sink. Through timing with our company, I was able to find a place and really grow and realize that we needed diversity. It was a different time in the 80s and 90s for women and especially family businesses. Our industry was very male-driven. There weren’t many women in it. I would go to conventions and the would be a men’s division and then men felt left out so they started coming. There was no place for women to be women and have conversations that men could do on the golf course. I was lucky enough to work hard and figure out a place for myself. I go back to my father's driving force. He was teaching me the ethic of work, whether in schools, sports, or a job and just being a good person.
How does the style of your jewelry reflect your travels and years abroad?
JL - My travels abroad have deeply affected my style of jewelry and the overall brand of Marlo Laz as a whole. I traveled to over 45 countries and lived abroad for almost five years so I’ve absorbed so many different cultures and experiences over that period of time. I would say the most formative moment was my boarding school experience in Switzerland. I was at a school in a tiny village in the mountains with kids from 53 different countries. But, regardless, we were all students in cafes after school learning about one another. It was at that time I became fascinated by global symbols that no matter where you came from or what language you spoke, everyone understood their meaning. And that’s originally where the Talisman Coin came from. It’s still one of our signature pieces today. It’s a round coin that has five international symbols of good luck and rays that show the sun always shines in. But, what I love is those good luck symbols are completely universal. I don’t know if I would have come to that if it weren’t for my experience in Switzerland. From then, every collection is influenced by some destination – whether a color palette that I translated into a gemstone. That’s where our brand colors come from - pink and orange which I first experienced in Mexico City on the terrace of a hotel. I wanted to capture that spirit so that’s how our brand colors became pink and orange. I started using pink tourmaline and orange sapphire. And of course the French language, in particular, our signature piece, Porte Bonheur- French for “I bring good luck and happiness.” It’s an ode to all these amazing places I’ve visited where French is the spoken language like Morrocco. That’s what makes the pieces so interesting. There are symbols far beyond what you are seeing in the actual pieces.
How has returning to your school as a teacher provided you a perspective and how has the transition from student to teacher been and how do you balance being a student and teacher?r
AM - I am currently teaching an undergraduate class on state politics at Notre Dame. First, I would like to say that I appreciate every teacher and every professor 100 times more now that I’ve experienced teaching. It’s exhausting and time-consuming. So for the students who are on this Zoom, please appreciate your teachers. They work very hard. Frankly, it can be difficult to balance writing a dissertation and teaching. Both are hard, but I love both of the things I’m doing so much that it makes it much easier to devote a lot of time to them. It helps to be interested in what you are doing. Teaching a class has taught me to be open to feedback. I want it to be a good class and the way to determine that is by how the students feel about it. I make sure to check in with my students often about things I should change or things that they like and want to do more. So being open to feedback is really important. Another really important lesson I’ve learned in grad school is to pause work or switch tasks. When you are spinning your wheels, you are exhausting yourself. Being unproductive is so unhelpful to your work and your mental state. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t force it. Watch TikTocs and eat m&ms. That’s what I do.
What was your experience like when you pursued your doctorate?
KDM - That’s a loaded question. One of the first things is that I went back to get my doctorate very late in life. So I think that for me it was actually making the decision to do so was the first step. But also to be point blank and honest, the technology was a challenge once I was in there. I’m generations away from where you guys are and where the world is right now. That was tough for me and the fact that I was still involved in my doctorate program with everything that was going on in the past three years. As with everyone else, all of these outward societal and human things are happening to us to all, and I’m still supposed to hand in a paper or go to my classes. While everyone transitions to online teaching and learning, I was already there. I was one step ahead for a minute. Within that environment realizing that everyone in my cohort no matter their age, we were in the same boat was helpful. We all had that similar goal and how to obtain it. Also, finding the right doctorate program was very important, especially later in life. To do a doctoral program to say that you have a doctorate is not the reason you want to pursue one. Really researching the program and finding the right program is critical. I found one that was less heavily based on writing and more action-oriented. My program involved actually getting out into the community, developing an intervention within the community, and creating change. That reignited my passion for social work. It was close to my heart. I didn't do it just to get it done.
Do you find that your psych/education degrees help you in your current position?
LGN - Yes. That is why I decided to go back into counseling. I found that in my job as the manager, I was the person that everyone came to. People would say that I’m approachable and easy to talk to. I listen. I take care of their problems. When I was deciding my next steps, my favorite part of the job wasn't just the pr and the sales. I was really enjoying helping people. One of my employees called me their life coach and it made me feel really good. They would ask me about non-professional things and I would help them. Also, on another note in a family business, you need to navigate through emotions. It doesn’t end at 5:00. It’s the holidays. Everything is your business. You have to know when you need to take a break and provide boundaries. Counseling is truly important, especially now. People are really stressed out. The work-life balance - we are trying to deal with in every business.
What is your philosophy about community engagement and making an impact?
JL- For me, it's one of the most important aspects of business. It allows you to pay it forward and to give back. Those are the two most important elements to focus on. My dad always talks about creating opportunities for others and I think that’s something that is so important and often overlooked by so many business people.. That’s always something that I think about. What’s really special about Marlo Laz is that I’m able to support so many organizations in a different way. When I first started out with trunk shows, Marlo Laz on Tour, many of those times we would tie the proceeds of the sale to a specific charity. We would have people who would open their homes and in some cases, they would choose the charity. It always felt good that we were tied to something else. Over the years we were able to help many projects and organizations that were so special to me. From an arts perspective, we were able to help an ats organization in Marfa. When I created the Desert Rising collection which was inspired by that area, we co-sponsored a permanent art installation in the desert. From there, when covid hit, we teamed up with a lot of jewelry designers which was led by an amazing woman who does my p.r. We started something called the Link Campaign which is an ode to links and chains in jewelry. A bunch of designers came together and supported No Kid Goes Hungry. That group of designers also started a scholarship at F.I.T. for emerging jewelry designers. I’m so proud to be a member of the Holocaust Museum and the ADL which are both dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of hatred. And although the idea of fine jewelry is very different than these organizations that are changing the world, our message is the same in that Marlo Laz believes in positivity and spreading goodness. That’s what I try to do with the jewelry and give back in any way that I can.