This June, I made my very first trip to the United States. Long overdue, but better late than never. However, it wasn’t for a trip to Vegas, or to LA, or soaking up the sun in California. Instead, it was to attend the Forté Foundation Conference in Atlanta, Georgia with Imperial students on the Full-Time MBA, Global Online MBA and Weekend MBA, in addition to next year’s Forté Fellows who will be joining the Full-Time MBA in September.
The conference was hosted to celebrate and support top female MBA talent at Business Schools across the globe, and promote female empowerment and advancement in the workplace.
This event meant a lot to me. I was lucky enough to be awarded a Fellowship from the Forté Foundation to fund part of my studies before my MBA started. Ever since then, I was intrigued and excited to attend the annual conference which takes place every summer in a varying US city. It was the third time I travelled abroad as part of the Full-Time MBA at Imperial, which in itself was exciting.
This year, the location was Atlanta, Georgia (home of Coca-Cola) and the theme was “Let’s Power Up!”. What greeted us when we began our two-day conference was a buzzing room of perhaps 300 or so likeminded females studying or starting their MBAs, eager to meet, network, learn and celebrate each other’s successes and also their own.
I met MBA candidates from Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Oxford, UCLA and many other schools. The energy on that first morning was fabulous. I felt great being in that room and very fortunate. There was never a silent moment, with uplifting “female empowerment songs” being played during every break, session handover and timeout session. You really did feel as though you were in a room with great talent, and I felt humbled to be in the room myself.
The conference was structured to be a mix of talks (TED-style) to the whole audience, Q&A sessions and smaller break-out sessions where the attendees split into separate seminars on topics of interest.
The presenter list was impressive. Better than I expected, actually. Joanne Lipman, author of the book That’s What She Said was the event’s first formal speaker, talking us through her research findings and what men need to know about working with women!
The Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Global Business Services, Mani Dasgupta, gave an honest account of her life, her career and juggling the demands of personal life and professional ambitions.
My favourite speaker was Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture in North America. The rest of the Imperial delegates and I were in the front row, listening to Julie speak about the career path that lead her to a position of power at Accenture. She was inspirational. She joined Accenture with limited experience in technology and now heads-up the North America business.
I can speak for myself, and firmly say that lack of experience has stopped me from applying for roles (even at my level). To take on such a challenge, to take that risk and to have the confidence in herself that she could do it, was super inspiring. She talked about how you must take risks in your career and trust the opportunities which come your way. These were two of the biggest takeaways for me from the conference.
The rest of the conference was useful too. There were opportunities to meet other MBA students over lunch, network and take lots of photos and selfies of course. The first day concluded with a careers fair, useful for those interested in careers in the US, whilst the second day concluded with an Entrepreneurial Pitch competition where five inspiring female MBA candidates pitched their business ideas for $10k of prize winnings.
All in all, I had a great time at the conference – it was great to spend time with other women from Imperial’s MBA cohorts and take time out to reflect on my MBA journey so far and goals for the future. I felt uplifted to see so many other women following their MBA goals at top business schools, and encouraged that the issues they were facing were ones I could resonate and relate to as well.
I really do recommend applying for a Forté Foundation Scholarship if you’re pursuing an MBA qualification. It unlocks great support throughout the year through webcasts and e-resources as well as opportunities like this one. Get applying and good luck!