Forté News

What We Learned: Celebrating 20 Years of More Women Leading

20 Years of Impact

What a milestone year for Forté! We celebrated our anniversary in several different ways this year, from a “Cheers to 20 Years” virtual toast in April to a cake and champagne reception at our annual partner meeting and five “Rise and Rally” fundraising events in Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New York City.

Each celebration was an opportunity to connect with members of our community, reflect on how far we’ve come, and discuss how we continue building the talent pipeline to get more women leading.

After two decades of work to improve gender diversity in business schools, the landscape for women in this space has undergone a shift. Women’s full-time enrollment in MBA programs is now at 42%, 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and 32% of S&P 500 company board seats are held by women. The progress is real, and the change is palpable.

A Large and Powerful Network

Twenty years ago, it would have been challenging to find four C-level women to speak at Forté fundraising events. At that time, only a handful of women were leading companies and sitting on corporate boards. 

Today, our network is larger and more powerful than ever. We have developed a deep bench of inspiring women leaders. I was delighted to feature Christina Wallace, Triona Schmelter, Sarah Friar, and Susan Jurevics as speakers at our 20th Anniversary “Rise & Rally” events. 

These women represent the transformative power of business education. With MBAs from leading business schools, they’ve been empowered to pursue their dreams, take risks, make mistakes, build successful careers, launch businesses and nonprofits, and serve on boards. During our anniversary events, these role models shared their stories and the lessons they learned along the way. 

Role Models: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Since the early days of Forté, we’ve focused on identifying and highlighting role models to show other women what’s possible. Our speakers are real-life examples of how it’s possible to align your career choices with your values.

Christina Wallace, Author, Entrepreneur, and Harvard Business School Faculty, balances multiple professional commitments and is a working mom. She knows all too well the demands women face from every part of their lives. While it might seem like she has superpowers allowing her to manage everything effortlessly, the truth is, she couldn’t prevent one of her kids from getting sick on the morning of a Forté event where she was scheduled to speak. But Christina rejects the notion that these demands have to conflict with one another. What if the secret to a sustainable and fulfilling career is making room for all of your interests?

Women are often told to be bold, but what does that mean in practice? For Nextdoor CEO, Sarah Friar, “bold” is a word that has defined her career choices, from leaving a coveted position at Goldman Sachs to intentionally choosing a less desirable San Francisco location for the Nextdoor offices to create job opportunities and a positive economic impact.

Doing good can be good for business. Imagine taking on the daunting task of removing synthetic colors and artificial ingredients from one of America’s most iconic and profitable meals – Kraft Macaroni and cheese – without changing the flavor. Triona Schmelter shared her story of taking on this seemingly impossible task and hitting it out of the park.

Not everyone will understand the choices you make. Susan Jurevics once accepted a job opportunity that meant moving away from her family and across the Atlantic. This experience taught her there’s no need to defend her decisions to anyone. She learned the importance of trusting herself and standing confidently in her choices, regardless of the opinions of others.

Enduring Partnerships: The Foundation of Progress

We have more than 150 corporate and school partners and donors who help advance our mission. We’ve certainly come a long way from the early days of Forté. I’m grateful to everyone who helped us get here. Together, we’ve created a community that believes in the transformative power of collaboration – providing access to business education, professional development, and a network of successful women:

  • Forums Events: Introducing 50,000 women to the value of an MBA.
  • Forté Fellowships: Helping over 16,000 women pursue an MBA.
  • Financial Support: Awarding $400 million in financial support through the Fellows scholarship program.
  • MBA Leadership Conference: Connecting 115,000 women with networking and career opportunities.

Meaningful Progress Takes Time

We recognize our work is far from over and I’m grateful to have you on this journey. While women make up the majority of college students, not enough of them are pursuing majors that historically lead to the highest-paying jobs. And once they enter the workforce, they lag behind their male counterparts for promotions and career progression. We partner with 68 undergraduate institutions across the country to help more women make informed, intentional choices about career possibilities and develop the skills they need to succeed and advance. In the workplace, women continue to face barriers to leadership, even those with an MBA. Our research reveals an ongoing gender gap, which is widest for underrepresented minority women. Women report a lack of female role models, sponsorship, a clear development plan, and the confidence to get ahead as the biggest barriers to advancement. 

The Road to Gender Equity

As we reflect on the significant strides women have made in business leadership over the last 20 years, it is clear to me that to achieve true equity, we must continue investing in this pipeline. Looking ahead to the new year, all of us at Forté remain committed to ensuring more college, early-career, and professional women take their seat at the table—through education, mentorship, and professional development. How can you contribute to the movement for #MoreWomenLeading? Invest in them.

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