Several Lehigh alumni came back to campus for the inaugural Women in Business conference March 24 to share their personal career experiences with current students.
According to the Women in Business mission statement, the organization exists to promote members’ “personal and professional development by engaging them in activities and workshops that support business skills and etiquette.”
Student registration for the conference sold out within two hours of opening and approximately 150 students, faculty and staff were in attendance at the event.
“We wanted to bring together students—both male and female, alumni, faculty and staff to have an open dialogue about empowering women in the workplace,” said Catherine Wright, ’15, the president of Women in Business. “We realized there’s so many successful Lehigh alumna that no one really talks about or gives credit to.”
Wright said although Lehigh does a great job of creating opportunities for both male and female students, and professors are generally supportive, there is often a confidence issue among female students in and outside of the classroom.
“There’s something called the confidence gap,” she said. “I’ve noticed that in my business classes a lot of girls usually don’t raise their hands and they’re nervous when they are called on. Even though when they do answer, nine out of ten times they’re right.
Wright also said the Women in Business organization has had several workshops with companies. These companies have seen the same confidence gap in interviews.
“The traits that girls are typically discouraged from exhibiting are the very traits required for successful professional careers,” said Maria Chrin, ’87, the keynote speaker at the event.“What are those? Taking risks and promoting yourself.”
Chrin is the founder and managing partner of Circle of Wealth Management, an independent investment management and wealth advisory firm. Prior to founding her own business, Chrin worked on Wall Street for several years.
During her speech, Chrin highlighted the troubles she faced as a woman trying to enter the corporate world, as well as the troubles women are still facing today.
“If we’re going to change the script, we have to teach women here and now that our work is a key part of our life,” Chrin said. “It is not so much that we can have it all, but that we can create a balance that is unique and meaningful to us.”
Chrin concluded with a message of encouragement aimed at the young professionals in the room. She said that fear is the main factor in not reaching goals and has to be turned into something positive.
Following her speech, Chrin opened the conversation to attendee questions. Several questions focused on the role of men in women’s empowerment. Chrin said although women have to rally for their own successes, the support of male coworkers and mentors is immeasurable.
Following Chrin’s address, the group of attendees broke into panel sessions. These included: “Be Your Own Best Career Advocate,” moderated by Georgette Chapman Phillips, the dean of the College of Business and Economics, and “Risk and Return,” which was facilitated by Regina Lewsis, ’91, a USA Today and MSNBC commentator.
“As a man, I often do not think about the biases and barriers that women encounter in the workplace, simply because I have never had to experience them,” said Javon Tai, ’15, an accounting major. “I came to become more cognizant of the role that I can play as a man in creating a more equitable work environment.”
Wright said Women in Business plans to make the conference an annual event. In the future, they hope to include students outside of the business school who they feel would also benefit from the event’s message of empowerment.