New Forté Alumni Leadership Council Will Help Post-MBA Women Shine in Leadership Roles

Vonetta Young credits Forté with changing her life. The organization reimbursed her for a train ticket to the Forté Financial Services Fast Track conference in 2011. Vonetta, who was on the verge of beginning business school, never forgot Forté’s generosity.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go without that $250 max reimbursement, and I was so grateful, I decided to give back to Forté however I could,” she explains.

Vonetta, who is now an investment readiness and fund formation advisor at Vonetta Young Advisors, kept her promise. She was recently named chair of Forté’s new Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), a group formed in summer 2021 that meets monthly and is made up of 24 diverse businesswomen representing Forté’s community.

“The ALC was created to help us think through how to create the most valuable post-MBA community programming. Who better to inform this than voices from that community,” says Amy Orlov, Forté Director of Professional Programs.

Eyes on the Prize

As Amy explains, Forté has built an entire ecosystem of leading companies, universities, MBA programs, and individual donors — all targeting women’s leadership in business — with a key emphasis on the transformational power of the MBA. The organization’s earliest work focused on getting more women interested in and accepted into MBA programs, which were well below 50% gender balanced.

“Now that we have seen our partner schools get closer to gender parity, reaching 41% average women’s enrollment this year, we are expanding our focus to supporting post-MBA women in their ongoing leadership journeys,” she explains.

Vonetta knows all too well how challenging that journey can be. She describes her post-MBA experience as a “roller-coaster.” After earning her MBA from Georgetown University (McDonough School of Business) in 2013, she embarked on a year-long job search. She finally landed a position in investment management but eventually realized it wasn’t a good fit.

“I was Black and female, and the partners at that firm had never hired someone who looked like me to work on the investment side before, and it seemed they regretted it,” Vonetta explains. “My experience ensures that I bring the ideas of diversity and inclusion into every facet of what we do as the ALC. I can’t do anything about people’s hearts or minds, but I can give people the opportunity to learn how to include others and how to be included.”

I’d like to see how we can best support Forté’s professional programs in terms of helping shape how the organization meets the needs of women MBAs, before and after business school. I’d love for us to have solid prototypes that future ALC members can continue to iterate on and improve.

As the council’s inaugural leader, Vonetta is laser focused on ensuring that Forté is supporting women business leaders where they need it most. “It can be tempting for organizations to want to become all things to all people, and Forté has done a great job of avoiding that. The ALC further ensures that it keeps its eyes on the prize: getting more women into MBA programs and into companies where they can shine authentically in leadership roles and ultimately drive equality and equity in the workplace more broadly,” she says.

Connection Through Networking

During Vonetta’s two-year term as chair, she aims to build a solid foundation on which future ALC members can expand. She says, “I’d like to see how we can best support Forte’s professional programs in terms of helping shape how the organization meets the needs of women MBAs, before and after business school. I’d love for us to have solid prototypes that future ALC members can continue to iterate on and improve.”

Vonetta recognizes the coronavirus pandemic has led to feelings of isolation for some in Forté’s community. To connect members, from current students to alumni, she’s willing to “try a lot of different things. This might mean regional meetups in the summertime or virtual coffees or speed networking rounds, for example,” she adds.

ALC initiatives subcommittee chair Joanna Bitharas, Senior Consultant, Carpedia International, received a Forté fellowship while studying for her MBA at Queen’s University (Smith School of Business) in Canada. Like Vonetta, she wants to give back to Forté and says the ALC can provide women with a more robust, diverse network that will help them navigate the initial stages of their careers.

“One of the things that COVID has really taught us over the last two years is how important our network is. I believe this is where the ALC will have the most impact for women post-MBA. Forté will … really follow women through the entirety of their careers and support them along the way. I hope to see the ALC be the driving force behind this effort,” Joanna says.

Never Stop Learning

ALC member Karisa Mashlan, Strategy Insights & Planning Consultant, ZS Associates, says she sees serving on the ALC as an opportunity to help advance women in business and to build a lifelong connection to Forté. As ALC community subcommittee chair, Karisa is designing a project plan that prioritizes workstreams and projects to “deliver the best possible outcomes for Forté.”

After earning her MBA from IE Business School, Karisa set out to design her life and career the way she had always imagined it, making deliberate changes that would accelerate her career forward.

“Taking the time to search for the next best opportunity takes patience and courage. Defining what you aspire to takes thoughtful consideration,” she says.

As someone who has had experience making career changes, Karisa says she hopes to mentor women through her membership in the ALC.

“By offering a listening ear, I hope to allow other women to express their ideas, needs, and vision for themselves so that they can feel confident about the destination they are headed toward. As part of the ALC, I also hope to help Forté Foundation develop their post-MBA offerings, because learning does not stop at MBA, but is a lifelong journey,” she says.

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