This year, Ross’s Women in Leadership Conference (WILC) focused on the topic of “A Woman’s Worth: Exploring How Women Uniquely Shape the Business World.” Friday kicked off with a keynote address from Shelley Zalis. She serves as the CEO and Co-Founder of Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange and in the last few weeks toured with Oprah promoting the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge, an effort to “energize confidence and ignite the sparks that will drive real change in women.”[i] Shelley emphasized that we need to focus on what differentiates us and confront rules which hold us back from what we need professionally or personally. She highlighted the fact that women tend to serve as the caregivers and later opt out of increased responsibility at work because of these commitments. This creates a dearth of key attributes in senior leadership that these caregivers possess: loyalty, intuition, long-term thinking, patience, and sharing feelings openly and honestly. She challenged us to opt in and change the rules – to “own your life and create your choices.” She emphasized that you must ask for what you need, then take action toward what will fulfill you, even when it is not what others may want. There were breakout sessions covered topics including: global business, storytelling, communication skills, diversity and the power of relationships. Panelists came from a variety of backgrounds and industries sharing experiences to elucidate the challenges faced and progress made toward gender equity. Angela Guido led a session focused on the power of conflict in storytelling to pull your listener in and help them relate with your decisions and actions. This is something we emphasize at Ross. Think about when a recruiter asks you about a failure or accomplishment. If you stick to high level, they may not relate and you run the risk of them judging you more than relating with you. When you walk them through the situation, they start putting themselves in your shoes, thinking about what they would do. This can be a more effective way of building rapport during an interview. The conference concluded with a series of ‘Girl Talks,’ featuring Ross’s Dean Alison Davis-Blake, Kristen Schultz (Ross MBA ’13), T. Sha’ Duncan Smith (Ross Director of Diversity & Inclusion), Kyle Grubman (Founding Member of Manbassadors[ii], Ross MBA ‘15), Angela Guido (Founder of MBA Career Coaches), and Soojin Kwon (Ross Admissions Director). The common theme among these was exploring what makes an individual unique and how these different identities can serve as a platform for making valuable contributions in t he workplace. Think about the common qualities attributed to women – if you have these qualities, fantastic, use and build upon them. If you do not, then be aware of that, so that you do not let a stereotype of what you ‘should’ be define you. Angela and Soojin both reinforced that you must decide what gives you joy and what success looks like for you, not anyone else. Angela’s message struck home: “You have to be yourself because everyone else is already taken. If you don’t, then no one else will and the world will miss out.” For all the prospective students out there, I do hope you will take this to heart. WILC and the Forte Foundation Conference last summer provided great opportunities for men and women alike to think about how gender plays into work and life decisions. With the help of dynamic speakers and active corporate sponsors, attendees are able to engage in thoughtful conversation and further their own understanding of the unique characteristics that add value to the business world and beyond. What great conferences have you been to? Were you able to attend the Forte Foundation Conference this summer? Please share some of your insights and ah-ha moments in the comments below! Whitney Martin is an MBA Student at University of Michigan (Ross School of Business) and Forté Fellow Class of 2016. [i] http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=6606 [ii] Manbassadors is a new initiative at Ross for men to join in the conversation. We believe more can be accomplished when we invite male allies to advocate for and challenge our ideas. Kyle is a great example of someone who has benefited from female role models in his life and is eager to further explore the issues surrounding gender in the workplace.