Since an early age, Jessica Raasch has been outspoken. In the sixth grade, for example, she organized a group of students to protest the principal’s office so they could hold a school dance. Years later, as an MBA student at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, she applied that same tenacity in serving as president of Women in Business; founding a management and leadership club; being a mentor to undergraduate women business students; and earning a coveted Forté Foundation Fellowship. As a result of her extraordinary efforts, Jessica received Foster’s Outstanding MBA Student Award, and she recently added another accolade to her list of accomplishments: winner of Forté’s 2018 Edie Hunt Inspiration Award.
Build a community of women. The most important thing we can do is make the MBA as good an opportunity for women as it is for men.
Early interest in gender equality
The Edie Hunt Inspiration Award annually recognizes an MBA student whose contributions to her school or community aligns with Forté’s mission to advance women into business leadership positions.
Jessica’s interest in women’s leadership began after she graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in economics. While working at a Big 4 public accounting firm, Jessica recalls listening to an announcement of new partners and noted that most of the women who were promoted had been at the firm for 15 years while the majority of men had tenures of only eight or nine years. “In my gut, it didn’t feel right,” Jessica says. “It was such an obvious discrepancy.”
Another experience early in Jessica’s career occurred when a mentor suggested a timeline – for example, when to marry and have children – in order to time major personal milestones for maximum benefit to her career. “She meant it in a constructive way – it was how she was successful,” Jessica explains. However, Jessica “resented that women had to have these conversations privately and was sure men weren’t talking about when to meet their partner and have children.”
Through these experiences and her self-described “basic nature not to sit still,” Jessica gained awareness of the unique challenges women face in the workplace and was emboldened to find solutions as an MBA student. “During business school, I focused my time and energy on the things that aligned most closely with my values and goals,” she explains.
Action, not just words
While serving as president of Women in Business at Foster, Jessica mentored young women about business careers, increased their interest in attending business school, created innovative program offerings focused on women, and included men in the conversation about gender equality. “Jessica is truly passionate about encouraging and promoting women to pursue their leadership potential,” says Amber Janke, Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Foster.
Marshelle Slayton, a fellow Foster MBA, notes that “Jessica’s passion directly translates to action, not just words.” For example, Jessica was instrumental in increasing the engagement of international women and redesigned the board selection process to improve the Women in Business board’s diversity. She connected with international classmates to identify potential candidates and actively encouraged them to apply. According to Marshelle, “As a result, in only one year, Women in Business has gone from being a club that seemed to be for white women, with only one international student on the board, to a club that has 95% of the first-year women as paying members and five international women on the board.”
Expansive view of the MBA
Jessica is described as “inspiring” by several MBA colleagues, something Rose Long-O’Donnell, another Foster classmate, attributes to Jessica’s ability to perceive a broader picture about gender equality. “When Jessica tackles gender inequality on campus, she elevates the conversation, reminding people that championing women at work is only one part of a much bigger challenge,” Rose says. For example, Jessica organized a drive on International Women’s Day to raise funds for a local non-profit that provides feminine hygiene products to homeless women in Seattle.
In her acceptance speech last month at Forté’s 2018 MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Jessica recalled her first Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in 2016. During that event, she listened to a couple of Harvard Business School MBAs and Power Pitch finalists pitch a product for college women that provided security against sexual assault. It was at that moment that Jessica realized the potential of an MBA to solve real challenges for women. In describing her lightbulb moment, Jessica said, “Maybe the MBA isn’t just a desperate scramble to get a seat at the table….maybe this is about forming a team that can build a new table and write new rules about who gets invited to sit there.”
As Jessica prepares to start her post-MBA career at T Mobile, she offers this advice to young women who want to make a difference: “Build a community of women. The most important thing we can do is make the MBA as good an opportunity for women as it is for men.”