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Confidence, Inspiration, and Leadership: The 2014 MBA Women’s Conference

“Bring it. Own it. Build Your Career with Confidence.” That was the theme of the 2014 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference held recently at UCLA Anderson School of Management. The event was inspired, inspiring, and lots of fun!

Our executive director, Elissa Sangster, explained that the theme was inspired by all of the recent attention in the press to the so-called “confidence gap” between men and women. Many of the conference sessions aimed to build confidence in women for their MBA years and to provide them with strategies that will sustain that confidence as they launch their careers.

How much does the confidence gap impact women at work? Keynote speaker and executive coach Cindy Solomon cited a recent study showing that men virtually never turn down a promotion, but nearly 80% of women do so if they are not convinced in advance that they will be 100% successful.

“This is hugely important for all of you,” said Solomon to the audience of 300 students. “When you get out there, go for it. Do not allow the voices in your head to keep you from succeeding, because your potential is greater than you imagine.”

2014conference2Session topics ranged far and wide, but all of our speakers exemplified professional confidence. Katrina Lake, Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, and Ali Wing, Founder and CEO of giggle led a session titled “Street Wisdom: Lessons from Women Entrepreneurs.” They pulled the curtain back to show our audience of young women in business how a successful fashion-focused online business succeeds.

“I’ll be honest with you, I never set out to be an entrepreneur,” said Wing, who started her career at Nike. “I just naturally gravitate towards growth and change. It’s what I like to do, and this opportunity became very obvious to me.”

The Dialogue with Leadership, a candid conversation with top women business leaders, is always the crown jewel of the conference, and this year was no different. Dean Judy Olian of UCLA Anderson School of Management facilitated a conversation with Barbara Hulit, Senior VP and Group Executive at Danaher Corporation; Christine McCarthy, Treasurer at Disney, and Barbara Desoer, CEO of Citibank, N.A.

The conversation ranged from career missteps (and the hidden opportunities that resulted) to what’s it’s really like to be the only woman at the table. Our panel also talked about how they turned sexism to their advantage, leveraging their unique perspective for better business decision-making. If you missed it, you can watch highlights of the Dialogue with Leadership.

2014conference1Alidra Price, who was attending the conference before starting business school at the Yale School of Management in the fall, said the conference was a great experience for her. “The speakers have been wonderful, and the networking has been amazing. I feel like I’ve built a great network of women, and we can help motivate each other throughout our careers.”

In addition to the amazing speakers and workshops, Alidra and her fellow MBA women also had the opportunity to mix and mingle with Forté MBA conference sponsors – more than 35 top companies looking to recruit future business leaders from among the ranks of Forté women.

Financial service companies such as Deutsche Bank, Dimensional Fund Advisors and Merrill Lynch were well represented, as well as sponsors like AT&T, Target and even the U.S. State Department. The Expo floor was packed with women sharing advice, building their network, and – dancing?

Be sure to watch our “Happy” video, filmed on location at the 2014 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference!

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