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Strategizing for Success at the Candid Conversations Symposium

What does it take for a woman of color to become a business leader? An MBA can open doors — and so can connections with other talented and motivated people. On Thursday, June 9, 2022, more than 50 incoming MBA women of color gathered for the Forté Candid Conversations symposium, a special pre-conference event for attendees of the 2022 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Los Angeles.

Jamie Patterson, Managing Director, Senior Investment Banker, Bank of America, welcomed the women to the event and congratulated them on starting their MBA journeys. She shared the advice she’d give her MBA self if she could go back in time: “I would remind myself to be brave, to ask questions, to advocate for myself and to have fun, but really just to relax, because it’s all going to be fine.”

Jamie also spoke about the value of having diverse voices and perspectives in investment banking. She said, “When I walk into a meeting to meet with any of our clients, I’m never more proud than when I’m seated next to and accompanied by a diverse team — because I know our advice will be better.”

The Power of Vulnerability

Shamicka Jones, a connection expert, global speaker, and actor, gave the keynote. She discussed her work with Peoplehood, a startup from the founders of SoulCycle that helps people connect through deep conversations. Shamicka said that while the word “networking” doesn’t resonate with her, “Relationships will always unlock the door to your destiny.” She offered examples of how connecting with strangers has been instrumental in her career, leading to new opportunities.

Shamicka led the women in the room through a connection exercise in which each woman asked her partner, “How are you doing?” and listened silently as the other woman spoke for three minutes straight. Then, the women swapped roles. The simple, but surprisingly challenging, exercise demonstrated how vulnerability can make conversations more meaningful.

After the event, Jessica Bachansingh, an incoming MBA student at IESE Business School, mentioned how much she appreciated that exercise. “It was nice to be able to scratch the surface and really build a deep connection with someone in the three minute activity,” she said, adding, “It made me take a step back to think about how I want to network at this event.”

Practical Advice from Women Leaders

During the “Real Talk” panel, women executives from Amazon, DaVita, Deloitte, and Liberty Mutual spoke frankly about their experiences in business school and beyond. Leah Lattimore, Director, Undergraduate Programs, Forté, moderated the discussion. A few highlights:

Karen Tsokwa, Sr. Analyst – Transfer Pricing, Amazon, emphasized the importance of alumni networking. “I’m so keen on it. I feel like it’s the currency for tomorrow’s success. We cannot overemphasize the benefits of networking, especially as young professionals and as young women of color as well.” She recommended that incoming MBAs talk to as many people as possible, and said, “You can start now.”

Relationships will always unlock the door to your destiny.

Tinisha Mayo, Sr. Manager, Special Projects, DaVita, agreed, and said, “Network with your peers and with your professors. Really get to know them, and leverage their experience, because they’re the gateway to getting you into the career that you want.” She also advised that the MBA students save space to have fun. “Make sure you have that time for yourself and you have a good support system.”

Theresa Murphy, Director, Distribution Operations, Liberty Mutual, spoke about her passion for professional development and shared a takeaway from a recent women’s leadership training she attended: Ask for feedback. She said, “As you embark on your MBA journey, ask for feedback not only from your professors, but from your cohort members as well — and make sure it’s actionable feedback. Not all feedback is good feedback, if they don’t have examples or can’t validate it, but ask for feedback so you can do some on-the-spot learning.”

Claudia Wilderman, Managing Director, Consulting, Deloitte, encouraged the attendees to communicate with their leaders about what they want. She recalled a time when she told her leader, “I need someone to help pull me up, because I cannot get to the next level by myself.” He listened and worked out opportunities for her to get to the next promotion level. She also urged women to apply for jobs even when they don’t meet every requirement. “You don’t have to have all the qualifications all checked off. You will grow and evolve, and you have a lot to offer in a role.”

The women in the audience appreciated all of the executives’ insights. Ashleigh Rogers, an incoming MBA student at Rice University (Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business), said she came to the event expecting to learn about different companies and connect with Forté women, but because the speakers were so vulnerable, she found herself crying throughout the session. She said, “It’s good that I had this before I start school, to really think in that headspace of ‘I belong here.’ Yes, imposter syndrome happens, but you belong here. You deserve a seat at the table.”

Taking Chances and Reaping the Benefits

In her closing remarks, Anna Akopian, Senior Strategy Consultant, Accenture, told attendees, “Professional and personal growth occurs at the intersection of discomfort and curiosity.” She pointed out that business school is a safe environment to try all the things they may have been afraid to try in the real world. She said, “Do it. Apply for all the internships. Run for all the leadership roles your heart desires. Do anything that frightens you, but benefits your goals long term.”

Alana Hinkston will be earning her MBA at Harvard Business School, where she hopes to spend the next two years following Anna’s advice. Reflecting on the symposium, she said, “Seeing so many wonderful women of color, specifically Black women, speak on their own experiences and the choices they had to make, and that they were able to do what they needed to do — I think that’s going to stick with me.”

Learn more about the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference and Candid Conversations symposium.

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