Dressed in a sleek black blazer and a fitting pair of blue jeans, Maureen Chiquet ’85 addressed the crowd at ease, her voice soft as she answered each question with a nod of her head.
On Saturday afternoon, Linsly Chittenden Hall 211 was packed with students eager to hear Chiquet’s story in an event hosted by the Women’s Leadership Institute. Chiquet traced her journey from being an intern at L’Oréal Paris immediately after college to the CEO of renowned fashion company Chanel many years later. In a question-and-answer format first with WLI organizer Charlotte Clinger ’17 and later with the entire audience, Chiquet discussed a wide range of topics including leadership, women in large corporations, the work-life balance and the fashion industry.
According to Chiquet, her love of beauty has been a guiding force in her career path, ultimately leading her to where she is today. She said her undergraduate years at Yale, where she studied film and literature, trained her to become a keen observer and an insightful interpreter — two skills that proved to be indispensable in her pursuit of beauty.
“I was obsessed with the notion of beauty and wanted to live around it,” Chiquet said. “For me it was all about beauty, and that’s what helped me with my career and shaped my leadership.”
Chiquet encouraged Yale students to think deeply about who they are and introspect before stepping into the real world. For her, being honest about what she truly cared about was more important than other aspects of a successful career.
Chiquet also spoke at length in response to concerns regarding the work-life balance as well as the necessary skills for women aspiring to leadership positions.
“No one can have it all, but you can have what you want and be fierce about it,” she said, adding that it is important to create healthy boundaries and a schedule that includes time for introspection. “Don’t forget yourself in all this.”
Instead of advocating for a tough and masculine front in leadership, Chiquet emphasized traditional feminine qualities such as listening, empathy and vulnerability in her advice for aspiring female leaders in the professional world.
In particular, Chiquet said her willingness to show weakness in front of her team as a leader has allowed her to initiate honest and valuable conversations with them.
Four students interviewed all said it was refreshing to hear Chiquet’s perspective on leadership.
“It was really inspiring to hear that she valued the creative side of the fashion industry as well as genuine enthusiasm and passion,” Pamela Weidman ’17 said. “It seemed like she was really good at incorporating what she believed in into all the companies she has been in.”
Lorenzo Ligato ’15, a former features editor for the News, also added that it is not common for a leader to embrace her vulnerability as a way to connect to everyone around her, especially since the traditional idea in leadership is to exude uncompromising confidence at all times.
Stephany Rhee ’16, president of the WLI, said she hopes attendees will think of being a woman as an advantage instead of a weakness in leadership after the event. Seeing a role model like Chiquet definitely helps in furthering this idea, Rhee said.
“There is a value in being quiet and listening,” Chiquet told the News, adding that she is an introvert who sees traits traditionally perceived as weak to be empowering qualities, particularly for female leaders. “Listening has brought me much more in my life than speaking.”