On Friday, June 18, and Saturday, June 19, nearly 1,500 incoming women MBA students participated in the Forté MBA Women's Leadership Conference. This annual event is a wonderful opportunity for incoming MBA women to hear from women business leaders, build their networks, and prepare to master their time at b-school. The 2021 virtual conference was Forté's biggest event ever, with MBA students logging in from countries all over the world. Meenakshi Kukreja will be studying at York University (Schulich School of Business) this fall. She joined the MBA conference from her home in India, despite the time difference, which meant the event began at 7pm her time. Meenakshi told Forté, "I made sure that I took a siesta after lunch so I could power through the night." Bringing Women of Color Together Look at the faces of those around you. We are not imposters. We're alchemists who turn spaces that may not always have been designed with us in mind into places where we don't just survive, but thrive, and transform with our very presence. This year, for the first time, Forté organized a pre-conference symposium for underrepresented MBA women of color, including Black, Latinx, and Native American women. The symposium on Thursday, June 17, included a panel discussion and “real talk” roundtables, and closed with a heartfelt speech by Cambrie Nelson, Senior Manager, Accenture. She urged attendees to be bold, and said, "Look at the faces of those around you. We are not imposters. We're alchemists who turn spaces that may not always have been designed with us in mind into places where we don't just survive, but thrive, and transform with our very presence." Learning from Women Leaders Elissa Sangster, Forté CEO, welcomed everyone to the full conference on Friday morning, and thanked the sponsors who made the event possible, including Forté's diamond sponsor, DaVita. She congratulated all the incoming MBA students on reaching this milestone in their careers, and encouraged them to use the two-day conference to both celebrate and ground the beginning of their MBA journeys. Then, Elissa introduced the first guest speakers of the day, Ciera Crawford, Regional Operations Director, DaVita, and Cassie McLean, Group Vice President, Operations, DaVita. The two women discussed everything from mentorship to self-care. Ciera said that when she’s struggling with imposter syndrome, she tells herself, “I'm meant to be here for a reason, and I have something to bring to the table.” Cassie shared that she uses the mantra, “You are the only limitation to your career,” to remind her that nobody else is holding her back. Inspiring messages like those flowed throughout the event as individual panels covered everything from industry-specific insights to professional development. Forté’s annual “Dialogue with Leadership” panel was a Friday highlight. Chandra Holt, Executive Vice President, eCommerce, Walmart, and Valerie Kaplan, Chief Marketing Officer, Headspace Inc., shared practical advice that pulled from their personal experiences. Karen Williams, Chief Program Officer at Thrive Scholars, moderated the conversation. Chandra spoke about the importance of risk-taking, saying, "I encourage people to take on roles that are going to stretch them, and give themselves grace not to be the expert on day one. If you're open with that, I think you'll gain a lot of trust, and you'll grow tremendously.” Valerie discussed the value of humility, telling the audience, "When you feel insecure and you feel like you have something to prove, you might be tempted to act like you know all the answers, but it actually demonstrates confidence, maturity, and leadership when you acknowledge that you don't." I encourage people to take on roles that are going to stretch them, and give themselves grace not to be the expert on day one. If you're open with that, I think you'll gain a lot of trust, and you'll grow tremendously. The day concluded with a Career Expo where incoming women from 52 Forté partner business schools met representatives from 60 companies to explore potential opportunities. Divya Dewan, an incoming student at the University of Cambridge (Judge Business School) appreciated the opportunity to ask questions about company culture, consciousness, sustainability, and more. She said, "You get to have so many informational interviews under one roof." 2021 Edie Hunt Inspiration Awards On Saturday, Forté announced the 2021 winners of the Edie Hunt Inspiration Award, which recognizes the achievements of women MBAs at Forté partner schools. The 2021 winners are Alberta Asafo-Asamoah and Aoife Considine, who both earned their MBAs at Imperial College Business School. In a dual presentation, they shared a few words of advice. Alberta offered, "To those who feel alone on their journey, whether personal, professional, or in academics, we see you. And to those navigating spaces as the 'only' — the only minority or the only woman — we also see you, and we beg you please keep going." Aoife added, "We must not forget that it is our differences that make us individually special. It's these differences that we must celebrate and encourage, and not dampen, quieten, or dilute if we want to make the world of work and business truly inclusive." Building Community An ever-present theme during the conference was the need for women to support women — all women. To that end, and in celebration of Juneteenth in the United States on the Saturday of the conference, the keynote panel that afternoon addressed the unique challenges that women of color often face in business environments. The panelists’ willingness to share their personal stories allowed all who attended, regardless of background, insight into these experiences. Isioma Chukwu is Director, Financial Analysis, at Liberty Mutual. She started working at Liberty Mutual during the pandemic, and 15 months in, she still hasn’t met her colleagues in person. She talked about making a deliberate effort to engage in difficult conversations, and told attendees, "Your voice is so vital, because we are not all the same. Even as women of color, we are so uniquely different." The conference's global scope gave incoming MBA women the opportunity to connect not only with future classmates, but with women students from other top b-schools. Mariam Bobtoya, an incoming student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (Carlson School of Management), joined the conference from Ghana and was thrilled to meet so many other MBA women. She said, "We haven't even made it to school yet, but we've already made these connections, and everybody is very supportive." See a compilation video from the conference photo booth. Want to be a part of next year’s MBA Women’s Leadership Conference? Sign up for updates.