09/11/2013 01:40 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Women in Business: Q & A With Callie Smith, Director of Jewelry Curation, Gemvara

Callie Smith is Gemvara's Director of Jewelry Curation. Before joining Gemvara, she ran her own boutique in downtown Boston that focused on eco-friendly clothing. Smith has also previously curated clothing collections for Rue La La. Now at Gemvara, she is helping position the company as a pioneer in the space, focusing on customization and allowing customers to physically create each and every item, all made in the US.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Almost five years ago, when I was 27, I found a lump on my neck that I thought was a swollen gland and it turned out to be cancer. I went through 6 months of chemo, and I beat it. It was scary, and hard, and life-interrupting... and yet, I can honestly say that it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The love, support and energy that my family and friends gave to me was astounding -- and the strength and confidence that I found in myself was very powerful and it permeated through the rest of my life in a lot of ways. I used to be terrified of public speaking -- I still am -- but the difference now is that I know that facing a fear head-on, though often painful while you're doing it, is one of the best feelings in the world once you've overcome the challenge. That fear used to cause me to keep some great ideas to myself in big meetings or in situations where I felt intimidated. I still get nervous for presentations, interviews and public speaking, but I now look at all of those situations as opportunities to become a better leader and a stronger person. It was really hard, but once I started speaking up and sharing my ideas, it really opened a lot of doors for me.

How has your previous employment experience running your own boutique and curating collections for Rue La La aided Gemvara?

Opening a boutique was an experience that I definitely still draw from today. As a small-business owner, you don't have the luxury of a marketing department to run your AdWords campaigns, or a creative department to design your email campaigns, or a merchandiser whose sole purpose is to select and display product -- you have to do it all. That mentality of doing whatever it takes to get stuff done, even if it's outside of your "job description," is something that I think is a necessity to succeed in what I'm doing at Gemvara.

My experience at Rue La La was the perfect precursor to my role at Gemvara. Rue La La, like Gemvara, is an innovative ecommerce experience and is revolutionizing that way that people shop online. Although it's not immediately apparent, there are a lot of parallels between our customizable fine-jewelry model and their flash-sale model -- learning to think WAY outside of the box and approaching everything with an open mind is something that I learned at Rue and use daily at Gemvara.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I am very passionate about my career and I wouldn't have it any other way. I started out as an entrepreneur and had no choice but to live and breathe my work. That's a mentality that has stayed with me. I don't mind a work/life blend vs. balance, and I find it unrealistic, for me, to completely separate that two. I do, however, have a few rules that I stick to in order to make sure I don't let work completely take over. For instance, I do about two hours of yoga almost every day before work; this means I almost never get to the office by 9, but it's something that I'm not willing to give up, so I set that expectation at my very first interview, and it's never been an issue. I think having those upfront conversations with your boss about what makes you happy (which in turn keeps you productive) is the most effective way to create the balance that is right for you.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think that every woman's experience is different. Every company is different. For me, personally, I have worked with a lot of talented and powerful women and have been at companies with equal representation of women and men in leadership roles. That said, I think the biggest issue that I've faced is that in some situations, because I'm a young woman (I'm 32 -- Is that still considered young?) who happens to be passionate about fashion and retail, I often have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my intelligence and strong analytical capabilities -- and just generally prove that I take my job very seriously. I think this is a common problem that women face.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I saw Sheryl speak in Boston before I read the book. Both listening to her and reading her book were eye-opening for me. The issues she brings up are not new, but her perspectives on them are fresh and sometimes controversial. She's been criticized for "blaming" women for holding themselves back, but I truly feel like this perspective -- one that gives women choices vs. making them into victims -- is one that is empowering.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Gemvara's CEO, Janet Holian, is one of the strongest and smartest women I know. I feel very lucky to work so closely with her. I admire her ability to be 100% straightforward and honest in any situation -- it's a seemingly simple thing that is in reality very hard to do. Her constructive feedback is so important for the growth of the individuals that she's working with and the company as a whole.

What are your hopes for the future of Gemvara?

Gemvara is a company that's taking risks in an industry that has been doing things the same way forever. Our customers are coming to us to make some of the most meaningful and memorable purchases of their lives. They should not have to settle for anything less than exactly what they want, and we are giving them the tools to do just that. My hope is that we continue to take risks and continue to "break the rules" in order to create the best jewelry-shopping experience in the world.