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Cut Out for Power: Forté 2015 MBA Women’s Leadership Conference

conf-wonder-womanWhat do Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift, Sheryl Sandberg, and Oprah Winfrey have in common? On June 19 and 20, they were all “honored” at the 2015 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Forté Executive Director Elissa Sangster opened the conference by unveiling life-size cutouts of these women’s photos—and many others!—to amplify the conference theme, “Let’s Power Up! Fast Forward Your Career with Strength and Character.”

As she explained, “We’re working during an era of inspiration. There are countless female trailblazers showing us how much power we can truly achieve.”

The record 414 student attendees loved honoring power women—and, naturally, spicing up their selfies—with the cutouts.

Yet Elissa Sangster explained that a serious message accompanied this fun: MBA women in attendance also have exceptional professional and earning power within their reach. Recent research shows MBA grads’ overall job prospects are the best we’ve seen in more than a decade, and that MBA alumni’s salaries have increased $47,000 to $69,000 over pre-degree pay within one to three years. Laughter filled the room as she congratulated MBA women on their “perfect timing,” equating it to buying a house when the market is down.

To help these promising women realize this potential, the conference enabled them to explore the nature of power, presence, and workplace politics in what attendees described as a “safe space” to network and ask questions.

Sessions Demystify Power by Exploring Courage, Resilience, and More

Keynote speaker Cindy Solomon opened with an outstanding (and hilarious!) session examining how courage builds and ignites attendees’ power bases. Acknowledging that everything they want is just outside of their comfort zones, she revealed her research finding most people do not believe they are courageous—but explained how courage can be learned.

She challenged attendees to have the courage to know their strengths and articulate them daily in a meaningful way; proactively build their networks and use them; own their own development; and have “one big life.”

 “Women ‘should’ all over ourselves, all the time,” she said. “The whole idea of work-life balance is a myth. Choosing to have one big life gives us the permission to stop ‘shoulding’ ourselves. Use that emotional energy to be in the moment.”

conf-expoIn addition to learning from keynotes, attendees selected “career insights sessions” most relevant to their industry interests—and the technology session alone was standing room only! They also chose from workshops and panels on topics including negotiation, promotions, internships, time management, first-year MBA tips, and more.

A much anticipated moment was Friday’s Career Expo, where the Classes of 2016 and 2017 networked with representatives from nearly 40 marquee employers—such as IBM, ExxonMobil, Whirlpool, and DaVita—about long-range opportunities.

conf-dwlAnother headline session was the Dialogue with Leadership, this year spotlighting Deloitte Senior Partner Jocelyn Cunningham and Walmart Executive Vice President Gisel Ruiz. Watch for an article and video in Forté’s August newsletter sharing their perspectives on strengths, power, resilience, and advice for MBAs.

To represent power in different arenas, attendees also benefited from keynotes on female entrepreneurship, as well as “doing good” in non-profit and government sectors. Mary Humphrey, CEO of Jane Goodall Institute, beautifully summarized what it takes to continually succeed in these environments:

“You have to keep learning, thinking, experimenting, and accepting that some things you try just won’t work. But you’ve got to go big or go home. Think expansively about what’s possible.”

Attendees on Conference Benefits—and Their Power!

Throughout the conference, attendees shared their favorite insights, photos, and moments on social media via #FortePowerUp, including many shout outs for 2015 Forté Edie Hunt Award winner and recent MBA grad Nikita Mitchell (stay tuned for an article about her in Forté’s August newsletter).

Elle Madras, a second-year MBA student at conference host Georgetown and a Summer Associate at Deloitte Consulting LLP, also discussed her reactions about participating for the second year.

“This has been a great chance to reflect on personal development and how far I’ve come since starting my MBA program. I’m not nervous anymore,” she said. As a student government leader, the conference was valuable in helping her connect with MBA women and kick off their experience.

Additionally, Elle focused her internship search on Forté sponsors she met at the 2014 conference, then made speaking at the 2015 conference part of her personal development goals for the summer.

“It was interesting to hear what issues are pressing for recruiters,” she added. “It gave me insights for how students can improve their networking strategies.”

Thank you to all attendees who provided feedback about their experience via our conference surveys. We were thrilled to learn that 95% would recommend the conference to friends and colleagues, so please spread the word on campus and beyond as the next step.

Conference At-a-Glance: Videos and Favorite Insights

conf-cutoutsFor more information, watch our 2015 conference “highlights” video and “power up” video capturing what attendees proclaimed they have the power to achieve.

Last but not least, we’ve also compiled favorite conference insights by topic from attendees’ social media posts and our team. Add to the list via Forté social media channels if you have more!

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