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Forté Fellows

Hunt Award Winner Jessica Raasch: Exercise Your Agency

Hi everyone, I’ve always imagined standing on this stage. It’s a bigger deal when you stand here. Forgive me if my voice is a little shaky. Gosh, thank you so much for that introduction. It’s such a privilege to be here right now. This is my third time being at the Forté Women’s MBA Leadership Conference during the summer. The first time was two years ago, just a couple months before I started my MBA. And I want to share with you a story from my first Forté conference.

So, you all saw the Power Pitch competition today, right? Was that awesome? Yeah. Okay. So there are so many things I remember about this conference, but one moment really, really stayed with me. And that was during the Power Pitch competition. It was a team from Harvard that had created a wearable device that looked like a piece of jewelry. And the idea was that you would wear it, if you were going out for the night and if you found yourself in sort of a compromised situation, you could push a button and it would start recording audio and it would transmit your GPS coordinates to a pre-selected group of friends.

The idea being to keep you safe in the event that you were at risk of sexual assault. To present this, these two impressive women from Harvard told this fairly harrowing story of an actual sexual assault that had occurred on a college campus recently. And understandably, the room went completely silent. And for me, I have friends who are survivors of sexual assault and — sorry — and just as I am right now, I was getting really emotional listening to it.

Because, I kept thinking if this device had existed just a little bit earlier, it might have changed the trajectory of their lives. And, after their presentation I went and met the two women who had given the pitch because I was just so impressed by them. And it struck me during our conversation that they had just finished their MBAs at Harvard. And there are all these doors that are open to these two women, doors that are not open to a lot of the rest of the world, frankly.

And instead of going through those doors, these two women were launching a startup to create a device that would tackle a hard problem that affects millions of women. And I think that’s so amazing. And it got me thinking that, as I chose to enter the MBA, my whole thought was, we do this for ourselves. We do this to get into leadership roles. We do this maybe to change careers or to make more money, to go into investment banking or consulting.

It just had never occurred to me that maybe we go to MBAs for totally different reasons. Maybe we do this to meet other entrepreneurial women. Maybe we do this to form teams that can solve hard problems that are uniquely faced by women. So maybe this MBA isn’t about 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.

So I held on to this thought. I basically floated out of that conference so alive with this idea that maybe there’s a whole new inspiration, and I wanted to hang onto it all the way through my MBA and I did. And I really dug into this idea of women helping women. And thinking about gender inequality and really exploring what it means to get women into roles where they can make decisions about how capital is allocated, decisions about businesses that will get funded, products that will go to market.

And I want to just take a moment to share with you a few things that I learned during this journey. And the first one I’m sad to say, is that the problem of gender inequality is much bigger, much harder, much more complex and much more opaque than I had ever realized. And more so than anyone ever talks about. And the reason is that gender inequality is closely intertwined with racial inequality. It’s closely related to gender-based violence.

It’s connected to the stories we tell little girls about who they can become, about how they should behave. It’s connected to the things we as women say to one another about other women, frankly. It’s even connected to things like healthcare policy and tax policy in the difference in savings rate for retirement among men versus women. This is so complex and what makes this problem even harder is that there are so many people, men and women, who don’t even recognize all the dimensions of this problem.

And how can you solve it if you don’t even see it. Right? But there’s good news too. Since 2016, I think that the movement toward gender equality has become a lot more hopeful. If you recall, in 2016 in June, a lot of people believed we were about to have our first female president in the US. And while that didn’t happen, we’ve seen droves of women running for public office, since then. We’ve also seen the explosion of the #MeToo movement on social media.

We saw Bill Cosby go on trial. We saw Bill O’Reilly lose his job. Harvey Weinstein turned himself into the FBI. It’s been a big couple of years for gender inequality, and I think now there are conversations that are happening that frankly wouldn’t have been possible even two years ago. And against that backdrop, we have organizations like the Forté Foundation that are working everyday to ensure that women get into business leadership roles where they can start making decisions that will matter. That will tackle these problems, and I think that is so inspiring.

I think there are so many reasons to be hopeful right now. The final learning I want to share with you, and I hope this is the one thing you take away from this weekend, really, is that each and every single one of you and me, we all have personal agency over this problem. Me, acting alone, I can’t solve gender inequality and neither can any of you. And frankly everyone in this room working together for the rest of our lives, we couldn’t get there.

But every single day we encounter these little things where we do have a little bit of control, a little bit of agency, the opportunity to make a choice that will matter. So for example, in your MBA programs, you might not win every single man in your program over. You might not get every man to say he’s an ally to women, but you might get three who are willing to sit down and have coffee with you, and talk to you about what it’s really like to work as a woman, reporting to a man or to a woman, to make choices about your family.

And just by having those conversations, you’re planting seeds with someone who’s going to be hiring women later on. Someone’s going to be making compensation decisions later on. And so your agency in this moment will cascade and it will multiply long after you graduate. So what I ask of you, I’m totally using my platform here, but what I ask of you is that when you go back to school in the fall, I want you to exercise your agency.

I want you to nurture a strong community of women in your schools. Make your school a place where MBA women can thrive as well as men do. Do that by reaching out to first-year students, to fellow women, find out what they’re amazing at, find out what they’re not so great at, partner with them, find ways to build teams that tackle hard problems, invite women to be on your teams, and most importantly, when women around you succeed, even if you were competing with them, celebrate their victories, cheer loudly for them, support them.

Thank you. And if you do these things — I tried to do these things in my last two years — but if you do these things, and your life is anything like mine just went, you will have the most transformational, the most incredible couple of years. And these experiences will not only transform you, they might change lives for women all over the world someday. So before I go, I need to say a few words of gratitude.

First and foremost, the Forté Foundation. Elissa and Arrion over here, but I know there’s a whole crew out here, for everything. Not just this award, but for the conferences and the Summit, for the Women’s MBA Coalition, the webinars, the meetups, they do so much work and it’s year round and they do such great work. I also want to thank the admissions team at the Foster School of Business for admitting me and also for the scholarship, and to our career management team for hours and hours of guidance and support that just transformed me as a candidate for jobs.

I want to think T-Mobile for agreeing to get on board with Forté when I was considering taking an internship with them. And I really want to thank my peers, the other women on the board of Women in Business at the Foster School of Business because they worked hard all year to build a strong community, to make Foster a place where women could thrive. And I’m very proud of the work that we accomplished together.

Finally, I want to thank my mom who traveled here from California today. Thank you. Actually, I have one more. One more thank you to each and every one of you. Because by coming here, I think you invested in yourselves and your future. It’s not always easy to make time for these things, but I think it’s so important. You have amplified your personal agency just by being here today.

I hope you’ve made great connections that you’ll leverage. We, as women, need each and every single one of you to go out and exercise your agency and I cannot wait to see what you will accomplish when you do. Thanks so much.

Forté recognizes the achievements of women MBAs at Forté sponsoring schools. The Edie Hunt Inspiration Award aligns with Forté’s mission and is based on the contribution the individual has made to her school or community to advance women into business leadership positions.

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