Given the remarkable businesswomen surrounding you today, would you believe that women still aren’t adequately represented in MBA programs?
It’s unfortunately true. Fifteen years ago, Catalyst and the University of Michigan researched why this is the case. They discovered myths and misperceptions women have about business school and business careers that inspired us to launch the Forté Foundation. Since 2001, we’ve worked to drive greater gender balance in business schools—and increase the number of women business leaders overall.
Precision is the perfect term to describe our approach. Forté identifies inflection points in women’s careers and intervenes at these precise moments to improve their chances of success. In turn, we guide women into rewarding business opportunities; motivate and prepare them to pursue business education; introduce women to influencers; and spotlight role models with fulfilling business careers.
Female MBA enrollment has risen from 28% to 34% since we began our work, and we’ve educated more than 25,000 women about MBA programs through our Forté Forums. By engaging women individually across career stages, we empower our 65,000 members in partnership with our consortium of top business schools and employers. This progress motivates me, but now we’re fearlessly focused on accelerating it.
A Closer Look at How Precision Drives Progress—By Career Stage and Industry
Thankfully, businesswomen today are inspired by countless trailblazers. What we’ve learned—and what guides Forté’s work—is that women also want clear roadmaps that illustrate ways they can take action once inspired.
Within career stages, we research gaps that remain over time, and take a prescriptive approach to building programming that helps address them. For example, Forté’s partner schools shared that some women’s applications to MBA programs weren’t strong enough—or, they would start the process and drop out. In response, we asked women what guidance, resources and feedback would help, and created Forté’s MBALaunch for Women. This customized program provides a peer group in their city, recent MBA graduates as coaches and “office hours” with admissions experts. Now, more than 400 additional women a year are submitting successful applications to top business schools.
Within specific industries, we’re also exploring ways to make a distinct impact—and we’re having great success within the world of finance. Many of the world’s top financial firms sponsor Forté, so we ask what they experience when they interview women candidates for positions. Over the years, they’ve shared that women often weren’t as prepared as men, so the industry needed innovative new ways to help level the playing field.
Forté leveraged these insights and launched a curriculum to prepare high-performing women for financial careers. Since hosting our first Financial Services Fast Track conference in 2008, we’ve educated more than 600 top MBA women about endless industry career options and introduced them to employers, professionals and peers who can help them enter, and thrive in, the sector. Research about select participant classes reveals 60% were subsequently employed in financial services or corporate finance, and 40% in consulting, consumer packaged goods, entrepreneurship, or technology. To further scale what has become a best practice, earlier this month, Forté hosted our first-ever College Fast Track to Finance conference. We exposed top undergraduate women to an industry and network full of career possibilities—from the start of their careers.
Fueled by continued feedback from partner schools and companies, we’re moving more women away from the margin and helping them become top MBA and job candidates.
How Can You Help?
As business leaders interested in sustainability, you likely already sponsor women in your organization—but you can do more. Mentor a college woman considering a business career. Share your career story by speaking at a women’s business event or contributing to an online article. Consider a financial gift to fund initiatives that help women succeed. Your support is precisely what businesswomen, and organizations like ours, need to realize the tremendous potential surrounding us.Elissa Sangster is the Executive Director of Forté Foundation, and brings to the role extensive knowledge of issues affecting women’s abilities to seek, prepare for and attain business leadership positions, drawn from her prior experience as Assistant Dean and Director of the MBA Program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.