Women in the workplace have always faced challenges unique to their gender, but as the pandemic approaches its second anniversary, executive women are now experiencing new and sometimes unexpected hurdles that they feel unprepared for. Forté’s soon-to-launch Rise program is one solution — it’s an opportunity for women one to 10 years post-MBA to create a community of like-minded women to confront these struggles together while continuing to advance their careers. Emerging Challenges in a COVID World During the Rise Roundtable Discussion: Women Rising and Challenges event held January 19, Amy Orlov, Forté’s Director of Professional Programs, identified three pressing challenges women in the workplace are facing right now: Work-life balance no longer exists: “There is no such thing as work-life balance anymore…there is just life,” she said, because COVID has upended balance at home, where women often shoulder disproportionate responsibilities. Double duty at work: Women are often asked to serve as diversity representatives at work. “When you are asked to be the voice of women, the voice of women of color, the voice of queer women, it is additional to your day job,” Amy explained. As more women drop out of the workforce, the women who stay are being relied upon even more to fulfill this essential role. Women are rethinking their goals: The impact of COVID on the workplace means “the world looks different than when you got your MBA,” Amy explained. Women are now asking themselves thoughtful questions, such as: How do I want to restructure my goals in a way that feels more authentic to me? Is the life I am leading where I want to be in the next few years? Session Highlights: Varied Journeys, Similar Struggles Rise was created to address situations such as these, and Ghita Filali, an executive leadership coach, asked participants if these topics resonated with them and why they wanted to be part of this roundtable discussion. The responses were wide-ranging: One woman said that the existence of a forum like Rise was helpful because it was a “confirmation that our goals are valid and knowing that others are going through it and how they have done it.” Another participant said after working for two years in isolation, she attended the roundtable to “gain energy” by “interacting with other professionals and feeling part of a group.” Another was looking for inspiration and insights, explaining that working at large, conservative financial institution in a marketing role led her to feel as if she had to “constantly fight to prove [her] value among peers.” Even a decision not to change requires considerations. A recent MBA graduate said that while many in her cohort were using their MBAs to pivot to another industry or career path, she was thinking about staying in her current position. Despite the varied reasons for joining the Roundtable, the common thread was that while everyone has a unique journey, the struggles are relatable. As Ghita explained, “Part of the benefit of Rise is to create your own ‘personal Board of Advisors’ in which women help women” to make career strides, which is why Rise is structured as a group cohort. Session Highlights: Superpowers and the Hurdles of Remote Work During the Roundtable, attendees broke into smaller groups to answer two questions: What unique skillsets do you bring to the table? What challenges to advancement do you face? To the first question, one group reported back that most of them possess an ability to organize, and “see the interstitial things that many others cannot.” They described the ability to “keep things moving” as an “invaluable trait that not everyone has.” Another group highlighted their versatility in working with lots of teams and “the ability to negotiate on behalf of their companies.” Conversely, they said self-advocacy and negotiating on their own behalf was more difficult because their “emotions were involved.” Regarding the second question about obstacles to advancement, one participant reported that while she has a spouse who maintains a fair share of home responsibilities, she recently switched from a Big 4 to a smaller consulting firm because she wants to both advance and have flexibility — objectives which have not always been symbiotic. Another said that the opportunity to build relationships, gain mentors and sponsors, and get feedback feels less organic while working virtually — different than previous, on-site days when you could catch someone in the office kitchen or walk down the hall together after a meeting. Another participant echoed this, saying, “In a virtual environment, everything becomes a formal meeting.” She also noted that working virtually for “an old school company that doesn’t see value in soft skills” makes it “harder to advocate for your value when you are not there physically.” Session Highlights: Moving from Mentorship to Sponsorship When the question arose about how to move relationships from mentorship to sponsorship, one attendee cited the critical need to “find a mentor who advocates for you behind closed doors — they have to believe in you.” Another woman suggested finding ways “to add value to their (mentors’) lives by establishing a two-sided relationship” and shared an example of how women earlier in their careers could provide invaluable insights to potential sponsors from the “ground floor” that could have a “high impact on marketing strategy.” Ghita suggested that participants “embark on an exploration mindset” to get advisors and sponsors to help them advance. “To get to the next level, you need to network at the next level,” she explained. More information about Rise Amy concluded the Roundtable by affirming its purpose: “This discussion models exactly why we created Rise. The sense of community…is about learning and an opportunity to build a community of women who are like-minded, have been through the same process, gotten MBAs and now are rethinking their goals,” she said. For more details about Rise, visit the program page on the Forté website or register for the next roundtable on Feb. 4. The pilot 14-week cohort will begin in February.