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The 2020 MBA Women’s Leadership Virtual Conference Reached a Record Number of Women

Forté originally planned to hold the 2020 MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, but when COVID-19 made an in-person conference impossible, we pivoted to a virtual event. On Friday, June 12, and Saturday, June 13, the Forté team and our partners gathered with more than 1400 incoming women MBA students, making this our biggest conference yet.

The two-day event was packed with informative panel discussions, conversations with corporate leaders, peer networking opportunities, a Virtual Career Expo, and lots more.

On Friday morning, Javier Rodriguez, the CEO of DaVita, Forté’s diamond partner, addressed the challenges the world is facing this year and urged everyone at the conference to be courageous. He said, “Find your voice, because what we need most right now is inspiration, clarity, and leadership.”

Powering Up

Elissa Sangster, Forté CEO, asked all the women at the conference to choose a “power word,” a word that represents their personal brand, their passions, and their biggest dreams. She said, “And when you find it… live it!”  As Elissa spoke, women MBAs flooded the onscreen chat box with the words they picked — words like grit, driven, resilience, confidence, perseverance, and authenticity.

Throughout the event, the live chat offered a constant reminder of how many women around the world were logged in and sharing the virtual experience. It gave attendees a way to immediately communicate with the featured panelists and with each other, raise additional topics, share resources, and keep conversations going after the session wrapped.

Dialogue with Leadership

The “Dialogue with Leadership” session, always a conference highlight, took place on Friday and featured:

  • Janet Foutty, Chair of the Board at Deloitte
  • Sheila Stanziale, CEO at SpudLove Snacks
  • Moderator: Liz Riley, MBA Prep Coach at Management Leadership for Tomorrow

Kim Cato, Senior Director, Global Information Systems at Whirlpool Corporation, welcomed everyone, and introduced moderator Liz Riley.

Liz noted, “We are a small army behind our computer screens right now — a small army of powerful women who are learning from each other, despite the fact that we can’t be face to face.”

In the chat, attendees responded with enthusiasm as the Deloitte and SpudLove leaders shared what they’d learned during their careers. Along with many other helpful recommendations, they advised women MBAs to check in with themselves regularly to be sure they’re on a path they find fulfilling.

Edie Hunt Inspiration Award

Another memorable moment came on Saturday morning, when Forté presented the 2020 Edie Hunt Inspiration Award. The award’s namesake, Edie Hunt, joined the live stream to talk about her rise to partner at Goldman Sachs, her longtime involvement with Forté, and her social activism as a retiree.

She told the incoming MBAs in attendance, “I call on you to use your voice and your actions to stand with those who society has marginalized. I implore you to do this in your professional life as well as in your personal life, and I implore you to vote this November.”

Edie went on to announce this year’s winner, Liz O’Brien, MBA ’20, at the Minnesota Carlson School of Management. In her moving acceptance speech, Liz talked about what the current “leadership landscape” looks like and how we can work together to transform it.  Watch her full speech.

Career Insights from Women of Color

This year, the MBA Women’s Leadership Conference featured a panel called “Real Talk: Opportunities and Obstacles for Women of Color in Business.” Amid nationwide calls for racial justice, this year’s panel felt especially relevant:

  • Patricia “P.B.” Brown, Vice President of Field Enablement, Global Retail Markets Distribution, Liberty Mutual
  • Raisha Lavigne, Principal, Director of Operations, DaVita
  • Roxanne Warner, Head of Investor Relations, Whirlpool
  • London Worrell, Enterprise Digital Skills Project Manager and Finance D&I Advisor, Chevron
  • Moderator: Ana Duarte McCarthy, Forté’s Director, Corporate Partners

They shared personal experiences as women of color in the workplace and offered advice on everything from imposter syndrome to b-school networking.  Several of the panelists will reconvene for further discussion at a Women Lead webinar on Thursday, July 30, at 12pm ET. The webinar is free for all Forté members.

A Message for Future Leaders

As the conference came to a close, Elissa spoke to the attendees again. She reminded them that they aren’t on the MBA journey alone — Forté will be there along the way.

During her speech, the chat was inundated with messages from participants grateful for everything they’d learned and eager to see where b-school will take them. Elissa wrapped up the event by offering this advice: “You’re going to be leading on your business school campus, and after that, in the business world. Take these two years as you experience the MBA to really refine and practice your approach to inclusive leadership and being a vocal advocate for change in the workplace. Find your voice, and use it every single day to make that change happen.”

Want to be a part of next year’s MBA Women’s Leadership Conference? Sign up for updates.

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