The Power of Curiosity

The Power of Curiosity

Reflecting on Paradigm for Parity Co-Founder Jewelle Bickford’s leadership impact

Jewelle Bickford, a founding member of Paradigm for Parity, Co-Chair Emeritus, and President of our Board of Directors, is a very young 82: She didn’t have her first paying job until she was 38. Like many women, she spent most of her early adulthood raising two daughters, and she was an active and dedicated volunteer in her community. Jewelle engaged in these callings with a full, compassionate heart, and with the work ethic of a committed jobholder. That mindset helped her acquire strong skills and habits that set her up for an illustrious career in finance. Jewelle joined the Rothschild Group in 1994 as the only female global partner in the United States. In 2020, Crain’s New York Business named her one of the top 50 women in the wealth advisory profession.

One of Jewelle’s early-career positions was with Citibank, where she served as an expert working to change the New York state usury laws. It was in that job that she had a stinging—and motivating—experience of a type all too familiar to many women in the corporate world.

“One day,” she recalls, “I was in the Vice Chairman’s office having a professional conversation when the door flew open and another man came in. He interrupted our conversation and didn’t acknowledge my presence. The Vice Chairman stepped in and said to the man, ‘I’d like you to meet your new Vice President in the Consumer Services Group,’ referring to me. The man replied: ‘Oh, I thought you were a secretary doing dictation.’” 

Achieving gender parity in the workplace is a weighty and systems-transforming undertaking that tackles large-scale DEI efforts, digs deep into entrenched issues of economics, and addresses complex questions of race and culture. But it all starts with asking questions about small but significant experiences like the one Jewelle describes: dismissive stereotypes, casual slights, and daily injustices. 

“When we ask questions, we see opportunities that others don’t,” Jewelle says. We not only witness what is happening, we can start to understand why. And that understanding can get at the root of a problem and, ultimately, transform a difficult experience into a mechanism for inclusive change. In other words, curiosity has powerful strategic value in our work with others.


Jewelle’s practiced and intentional stance of curiosity has been strengthened by living all over the world and exposing herself to unfamiliar cultures in both her domestic and professional realms. She is an exemplar of what Julie Sweet, CEO of Paradigm for Parity coalition member Accenture, calls “learning agility”—which she identifies as the most sought-after skill in Accenture’s potential employees.

“What we’re looking for are individuals who naturally learn things,” Julie says of Accenture’s hiring priorities. Those things needn’t be strictly limited to our roles at work. “It might be: ‘I learned to cook,’” she says, [or] “‘I learned how to change a tire.’”

Apex Global concurs, recently ranking “curiosity and lifelong learning” No. 5 among its Top 15 Must-Have Skills for 2024: “Embracing lifelong learning, coupled with curiosity, enables individuals to remain adaptable and seize opportunities for personal and professional growth. It drives people to seek innovative solutions to problems and to explore new approaches.”

An overlooked but essential form of curiosity is curiosity about ourselves. “Emphasis on training is very important,” Jewelle says, “but before you can train you need to understand your skills […] You may perceive your skills [as] very different from what your employer thinks they are—because not every employer gives every woman the option to express her best self at work.” If you are inquisitive about your own skills and gain clarity on the unique value you bring to the table, you can build a healthy relationship with your employer by helping them truly understand the assets you possess. You can also help make your workplace a more inclusive place where everyone is seen and respected for who they are.

Jewelle’s curiosity has profoundly impacted and guided the evolution of Paradigm for Parity. In fact, it’s no stretch to say that her inquisitive nature has been the driving force behind our coalition’s progress. Through her curiosity, Jewelle has unfailingly recognized when and where we needed to shift, expand, and evolve. She has always brought in the right people, with the right skills and leadership—and a deep curiosity—to make it happen. It is no surprise that she is also our most persistent and successful fundraiser.

For example, Jewelle initiated conversations with Black women who felt left out of work. Those conversations led to our bringing in Rosalind Hudnell, former Intel Chief Diversity Officer and President of the Intel Foundation, to help us ensure we were addressing lack of power as an obstacle. And that, in turn, ultimately led us to hire Sandra Quince as our first-ever CEO. 

Jewelle also sought out CEOs for conversations around obstacles to business leadership. Those dialogues led to Paradigm for Parity conceiving and launching our Profit & Loss Leadership Accelerator Program.

Another benefit to asking questions comes in the realm of supporting other women, especially in all-important financial matters. As a seasoned wealth management expert, Jewelle knows that women generally outlive their male partners. Asking the right questions helps women—who control approximately $14 trillion in assets—achieve long-term economic health. These questions aren’t the same as the questions prioritized by men, who are more likely to connect money to its performance potential. Women tend to attach money not only to lifelong stability but also to their deeply held goals and values. It often takes another woman to recognize this difference and ask questions around these concerns—ultimately, it’s a question of women supporting women in the deepest ways.

“When your work life is complicated, you need someone who can support you and help you find the right balance,” Jewelle says. She credits her husband with giving her that support, but she also sees how important women and woman-allied folks are to that support. It takes all of us lifting each other up. We are honored to have Jewelle as an essential and ongoing part of our leadership. We know she’ll keep asking all the right questions.