Earlier this summer, in June 2017, 52 Full-Time and Evening Foster MBA female students attended the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference. Foster had one of the largest groups of students to attend the event! Last year the conference was hosted in Austin, Texas, but this year Amazon, here in Seattle, hosted the National Conference. Over 500 female MBA students from across the country, and even from schools abroad, came to Seattle for this two-day, action-packed conference. I was lucky enough to attend both days of the conference and enjoyed each day for very different reasons.
The Forté Foundation (fortefoundation.org) is a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women. The UW Foster School of Business was accepted as a Forté Foundation partner school in the Spring of 2016.
The conference hosted over 100 speakers and presenters and 45 companies. Panels and presentations included career insight sessions ranging from Management Consulting to Finance, as well as development workshops around interviewing, leadership, and personal branding. The theme of the conference was Women in Leadership. It was motivating and exciting both from a personal and professional perspective, and left attendees and myself with a greater sense of purpose, drive, and focus as we returned to our personal and professional lives.
My favorite part of the conference was hearing from the inspiring female leaders that spoke throughout the conference. Claire Shipman, the keynote speaker, especially moved me with her passion for transforming the way leadership is viewed, and her desire to improve the way girls interact with risk and create confidence from a young age. In addition to the variety of speakers sprinkled throughout both days, the conference focused on career growth and professional development. The career panels on Friday were primarily Insight Sessions that shared more information about certain career tracks, and post-MBA programs. Panelists were current and past Forté members who were able to give a first-hand perspective about their field. My favorite sessions were the “Day in the Life” panels that gave attendees an understanding of various post-MBA positions available from sponsored companies like T-Mobile and IBM. After the Insight Panels, Forté held a Career Expo & Networking session where 45 companies and MBA recruiters set up booths in the Amazon Meeting Center. It was both exciting and intimidating walking from booth to booth sharing resumes, meeting recruiters, and chatting with fellow Forté attendees.
Saturday focused on Professional Development. I really enjoyed these sessions because they motivated us to bring a thoughtful, growth mindset to our own personal development as a leader and professional. The sessions I particularly enjoyed were Nailing an Interview, which highlighted new techniques to engage your audience, Creating Your Leadership Brand, which helped the audience formulate a personal brand message, (with questions like, “what is your leadership superpower?” to really make us think), and the Gender Differences Seminar, which gave us lots of examples, mainly from Twin studies, about the early differences in males and females that shape how we lead differently.
As I mentioned, one of my favorite parts of the conference was hearing from Claire Shipman, the keynote speaker. Shipman is a regular contributor to “Good Morning America” and most recently she co-authored the New York Times best seller, The Confidence Code with Katty Kay. Shipman’s research about female confidence is science-based, and I found it extremely motivational and thought-provoking. In one of her main topics, she pointed out that something changes after grade school with girls and boys. Early on in school, girls continually outperformed boys in the classroom, and it makes sense as to why: girls are generally better at coloring inside the lines, people pleasing, following directions, and listening. However, boys generally have a much tougher time focusing, they screw up more, get into trouble, and disappoint. The takeaway? Girls are constantly trying to be perfect and do everything they can do not to fail while boys are failing over and over . Young boys learn that it’s okay to fail, and equally as important, learn how to succeed after failure. These are valuable lessons and help to explain why men look at risk differently, and generally have more confidence than woman in ways like raising their hand for a promotion, taking on a difficult assignment, and trying again after a failed start-up venture. The biggest message from Shipman during her keynote speech was that as a society we must teach girls to fail from a young age, to struggle, and not to be perfect. Girls and women should be getting uncomfortable much more often, which means taking more action, and making decisions that seem impossible.
Shipman closed her keynote speech by insisting that women remain authentic to themselves and that we don’t lose our natural female strengths as we focus on gaining confidence. Female leadership looks different than male leadership: women are problem solvers, process-focused, carefully analytical, and more collaborative/ less hierarchical. Shipman was clear that neither male or female leadership is better or worse, simply different. We all know that companies want female leaders, but she stressed that people have to understand that female leadership will look and behave differently than male leadership. Those at the top must value these differences in behavior, and the definition of what leadership looks like has to change.
Overall, the Forté Foundation Conference left me motivated and excited. I ordered several of the speakers’ books before I left on Saturday, and I have been reading them throughout the summer. I talk about female leadership all the time, excitedly sharing my learnings from the conference about the science behind female confidence and leadership. I gained a solid understanding of several career paths presented, and some of my peers and I have been working with recruiters from companies represented at the conference. I also feel more prepared to talk about my own leadership brand and message and I am excited to put these tools into practice during on-campus interviews this Fall at Foster. Thank you to the Forté Foundation for hosting an awesome event!
Maggie Olson is in the Foster Evening MBA Class of 2018. Additionally she is the Foster Evening Class Social Media Coordinator and Blog Author.
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