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Nikita Mitchell, 2015 Edie Hunt Award Winner: Seeing Possibilities Where Others See Problems

nikita-mitchellNikita Mitchell, Forté’s 2015 Edie Hunt Award winner, received a standing ovation at the 2015 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference for her inspiring acceptance speech—and for crushing her business school goal to develop herself as a leader.

The award, named for Forté’s first board chair and current board member Edie Hunt, honors a recent MBA graduate for exceptional contributions to women in business. Nikita, a University of California Berkeley-Haas MBA Class of 2015 graduate, left a lasting mark on campus for businesswomen through both the formal leadership positions she held, as well as her informal actions.

A key leadership example launched in an unexpected way. Her class was only 29% women, so she joined a small group of students for lunches and potlucks to discuss the impact of this inequity and how they could take action. By the end of the first semester of her first year, she was one of eight female and male students who proactively approached school leaders with ideas about how to bring more women to Haas and maximize their experience. Collectively, they established the “40 x 20 program” to reach 40% female MBA enrollment at Haas by 2020, yet the efforts that followed achieved a historic 43% female enrollment in the MBA Class of 2016.

“Nikita Mitchell drove these initiatives,” a school leader said in her award nomination, “and, in so doing, was a strong voice for equity and empowerment for women and men.”

Nikita believes having a “high touch” with female admits contributed to their success, with efforts including women’s events, high-profile alumnae calling them, and other customized communications. They also launched three independent studies focused on the admissions process, academic experience, and social culture, and presented to the Dean and other senior faculty and staff about how to develop and support strong women leaders.

A Champion of Difference, Inspired by Her Roots

nikita-speakingDespite her incredible success in helping bolster female MBA enrollment figures, her acceptance speech boldly proclaimed that inclusion is about more than the number of women in any given scenario.

“We need people of all identities at the table,” she said, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging tough issues the world faces getting basic necessities to some women and children, and addressing the violence people experience as a result of their sexual identity. As a leader who said she represents “multiple identities” that are marginalized in society, she challenged attendees to remember we have not achieved success until everyone has a seat at the table.

Textbook examples of this inclusive leadership shine in her story. She was the first African American elected as President of the Haas MBA Association, working relentlessly to improve the culture around diversity. Nikita was also one of three Haas student liaisons for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, mentoring and counseling underrepresented minorities to pursue MBAs, and helping her school win the Consortium’s Together Everyone Achieves More award against 16 other MBA programs. She was also a Forté Fellow—and other examples abound.

Nikita said she always knew she wanted a career in business because her roots in the Caribbean surrounded her with entrepreneurial and matriarchal strength. Women in her family are business and government leaders. She was inspired by the sacrifices her parents made as immigrants who worked hard to send her and her four older sisters to college and support their success. She also credits her sisters for “embedding seeds of fearlessness” in her by not just being cheerleaders, but also constantly asking her how she could do more. Additionally, Nikita thanked her partner at the event for supporting her through the highs and lows of business school.

What’s Next?

nikita-elissaRecently, Nikita started her new position as Chief of Staff for the Americas Consulting Team at Cisco in San Jose. She describes herself as a “problem solver” in this role, and selected Cisco because of its clear commitment to advancing women.

“I can’t imagine a better time to be a woman of color in tech,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll make a lot of noise at some point during my time here!”

Nikita shared she aspires to be CEO of a socially responsible business one day.

Bringing It—By Bringing Her Whole Self

Those Nikita has inspired—from high-ranking leaders to her peers—also believe in her tremendous potential.

In nominating Nikita for the award, one supporter described her as a leader who “sees possibilities where others see problems” and “a true Lioness…a woman who will change the world.”

Twitter also lit up with admiration during Nikita’s acceptance speech, including this shout out from a past Edie Hunt Award winner:

Nikita said she is overwhelmed to be recognized for working on projects that matter so deeply to her. “This award is a validation of being who I am and of who I’m trying to grow into,” she said.

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