Lehigh’s Women in Business Conference, hosted Wednesday evening, featured keynote speaker Maria Chrin, ’87, and panelist John Chrin, ’85. Maria is the founder and managing partner of Circle Wealth Management and is a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees. John is currently serving as the Global Financial Executive-in-Residence at Lehigh. Maria and John sat down for a Q&A session with the Brown and White.
Q: How would you say your time at Lehigh prepared or influenced you when you entered the job market?
Maria: My time at Lehigh prepared me well for the job market. I arrived from Honduras, sight unseen. It was a bit scary but it caused me to learn how to step out of my comfort zone and adapt to a new environment. I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to acknowledge different points of views and be open-minded and respectful of others. In business, that has been invaluable.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about some of the experiences you had at Lehigh, your involvements and how they may have influence your decision of what you wanted to go into after college?
Maria: I was in the College of Business and I was involved in as many clubs as possible. I also was a colonizing sister of Kappa Alpha Theta. That was a very interesting experience because I didn’t know what a sorority really was or what colonization meant but decided to interview and see if I would be selected as a colonizing sister. The experience of coming together with others to form an organization from scratch, to help create its culture and form a cohesive team environment was an amazing preparation for setting up my firm many years later. Organizations are only as good as the people that make them up and the culture that holds them together.
Q: You’ve been working in the business world for many years now. How has being a woman in the field influenced your experiences?
Maria: One of the most important things I have learned is that women have a unique ability to add value through what research refers to as “collaborative intelligence.” By introducing the idea of “we” not just “me,” and respecting other’s opinions, listening carefully and paying attention to detail, women can add value and help make wiser decisions.
Q: What are your opinions on the common stereotypes of women in positions of power (i.e being viewed as “bossy”) as a woman in the business world?
Maria: I think they are terrible as they perpetuate the issues that hold women back. The traits that are needed for career progression are traits that girls are told not to exhibit: self-promotion and risk taking. These stereotypes ultimately make women fear success and its ramifications as successful women are more often than not portrayed either as bitter, filled with guilt, or always harried. I don’t believe this is the case for the majority of us.
Q: How do you think these stereotypes affect the young women trying to enter the business world today?
Maria: As a business owner who interviews and hires young women and men out of college, I am seeing that young women are still torn by the future personal choices they fear having to make. The normal definition of “work-life balance” is counterproductive. Work is not separate and distinct from life. What you do becomes part of who you are. If we want girls entering college to leave as women eager to embrace success and its ramifications, then we have to teach them that our work is a key part of our life. It’s not so much that we can have it all but that we can create the balance that is unique and meaningful to each of us.
Q: John, from the male perspective, why do you think it is important to have conferences like this?
John: Conferences like this increase the awareness that men have about what they should be sensitive to and how they can make a difference through their own actions. They give students an opportunity to network and learn from business leaders. They highlight that the enlightened organizations and business leaders are going to be the men and women who fully embrace the importance of having different styles, perspectives, backgrounds and passionate people, men and women, on their teams. There is no limitation to what women can achieve. These conferences remind us of that by allowing time for students to connect with role models.
Q: As people who have both worked in business-related fields, how do you think your paths differ because of your genders?
Maria: I was pregnant when I was in business school. Even the career counselor dismissed my career goals and tried to convince me to change my path and not pursue a Wall Street career. It was expected that interviewers from investment banks would not take me seriously because it would be hard to balance life and work in that type of organization.
John: We were both in business school at the same time. When telling interviewers and career counselors that my wife was having our first baby, they commented on how desirable a candidate that made me—it showed maturity and responsibility.
Q: As a member of the board of trustees, how do you think Lehigh is preparing it’s women to enter the business field?
Maria: I believe that we are doing a great job. To have a conference like this thought of and put together by female students says it all. This conference is a huge success because of their business, personal, leadership and execution skills. It helps students socialize and network with alumni, board members, faculty and members of our administration in a real life way. Lehigh is known for teaching in the classroom while giving students opportunity to learn how to apply what they learn. This conference is one example of that and as a trustee, I am impressed and proud our students have these types of opportunities.
John: I think it’s really important that a conference like this doesn’t become a “women’s only” event. The issues affecting women impact men, as well. We need the men in the room. Lehigh is preparing students well from an academic standpoint. However, students need to recognize that academic preparation is only one aspect of what will help them succeed. They need to develop other skills, many of which are up to them to learn and appreciate. These include developing strong interpersonal, communication, and collaboration skills, a strong work ethic, attention to detail and respect for different perspectives. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. To succeed you have to have substance, passion and you have to be great at whatever you do. That is what is going to make you successful in your career.