Lena Koropey, founder of Gramercy Protocol, speaks during the Lehigh Women in Business conference Wednesday, April 19, 2017 in Iacocca Hall. The theme of this year’s conference was balancing success and happiness. (Tulani Bey/B&W Staff)

‘Balancing success and happiness’: Women in Business host third annual conference


The theme of the third annual Lehigh Women in Business Conference was “balancing success and happiness,” which Lehigh alumni panelists and keynote speaker Lena Koropey, founder of Gramercy Protocol, discussed with attendees. 

The Women in Business club hosted the conference, which was held on April 19 at Iacocca Hall on Mountaintop Campus. This was the first year the WIB spring conference was open to all Lehigh students.

The conference required months of planning, beginning as early as August, WIB President Kiran Singh, ’18, said.

Singh, a finance and management double major with a minor in global studies said she picked the panelists with WIB adviser Jamie Pugh and vice president of WIB Megan Rich, ’18. With a long list of Lehigh alumni in hand, Singh set a goal to have all panelist speakers and the keynote speaker by December. Singh said it took approximately two months in the fall semester to research and communicate with all speakers.

“I talked to probably 15 or 20 Lehigh alumni,” Singh said. “Even if they couldn’t make it, they wanted to talk. It was nice for them to take the time out of the day to hear about what I am doing as a student here and hear about the conference. That was one of the most meaningful things I got out of this.”

This year the first panel focused on technology, innovation and communications and featured Lehigh alumni Michael Liebman, ’88, Lorraine Barber-Miller, ’96, and Tais O’Dwyer, ’00. The second panel’s topic was engagement and motivation and highlighted experiences from Lehigh alumni Brodi D. Jackson, ’98, Jennifer Schulte, ’99G, and Peter Ruggiero, ’03G.

“Our main goal of the conference is to connect business students with alumni and recruiters while giving them more insight about different topics affecting leaders, ” Singh said.

The executive board chose the theme “balancing success and happiness” because Singh said she feels it is important for people to find the things they love. 

The conference also focused on challenges and issues women face in the business industry.

“The barrier is something that we personally as women can control and that is about taking risk and taking new opportunity, setting yourself out from your peers,” Barber-Miller said.

Barber-Miller is currently the vice president of IBM’s Global Business Services, C-Suite and Blockchain Marketing across North America. She has worked for IBM since graduating from Lehigh and attributes her success at the company to Lehigh and learning the importance of taking risks.

In 2008, Barber-Miller took a risk after accepting a job offer from IBM to move to Dubai, where she had to build the business and the brand herself.

“Others would not go,” Barber-Miller said. “I decided to go, and said I am going to do this. I think my Lehigh experience taught me the desire, focus, need to work hard and to drive yourself. I have carried those lessons throughout my career, and so I am willing to do things others are not willing to do.”

Olena Nikolsko-Rzhevska is a finance and economics professor. Nikolsko-Rzhevska had originally planned on becoming a lawyer but changed her career path after taking an economics class and becoming fascinated by it. The subject was not offered in her native country, Ukraine.

Interested in the research component of economics, Nikolsko-Rzhevska accepted an internship in the corporate world but found herself disliking it because of the dominating presence of males. As the only female intern out of four, Nikolsko-Rzhevska described her job as getting coffee, running spell checks and completing meaningless tasks.

“I was so disappointed, I tried to step up and do more meaningful stuff,” Nikolsko-Rzhevska said. “For example, I tried to learn on my own how to work with certain databases, but they weren’t interested.”

After six months of working like this, she said she knew this wasn’t something she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She decided to get her doctorate in finance because of her love of research. Terrified of teaching, however, it took a few classes and weeks for Nikolsko-Rzhevska to adapt to teaching in another language before she fell in love with it.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, never thought in my wildest dreams I would be a teacher,” Nikolsko-Rzhevska said.

Nikolsko-Rzhevska has had a much more positive experience at Lehigh as a woman in the business world.  

“You certainly feel the male presence during meetings, but our department tries to be inclusive tries to give more roles to women,” she said. “When discussing administration stuff we hear the opinions of everyone, not just the males deciding what is going to happen.”

As a professor, Nikolsko-Rzhevska encourages her students to take classes they are interested in and not be set on a specific career path, as well as to take risks to find what they love to balance success and happiness.

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