The Forté Women’s MBA Conference returned to the UCLA Anderson campus today; Anderson last hosted the annual event in 2012. The conference is put on by the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into careers through access to business education, opportunities and a network of their peers. The organization also provides fellowships to women attending business schools, including students at Anderson.
Attendees are predominantly women, hailing from 34 U.S. states and eight foreign countries, who are in or about to commence MBA programs representing the majority of top domestic and international schools.
UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian delivered the conference’s opening remarks. The dean described a “paradox of progress,” noting that while there has been significant progress for professional women in recent decades, there is still a long way to go until equality is achieved. “I would have thought that by 2014, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, we’d be a lot further along,” Olian said.
Olian told the attendees about what she called a “two-pronged strategy” to not just redefine gender roles, but eliminate them altogether. “First, be the best you can be, as fiercely successful professionals,” Olian said. “Second, focus also on the majority group, on men, so that they understand what an inclusive, mutually supportive culture is … and understand best practices to support women and minorities.
“Our society needs everybody, every source of talent, to tackle the important issues of the day, improve the lives of everyone,” Olian said.
Olian continued her thoughts on women in business later in the day as moderator of the “Dialogue with Leadership” panel featuring Barbara Desoer, Citibank CEO who received her MBA at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business; Christine McCarthy (’81), executive vice president of corporate real estate, alliances and treasurer of the The Walt Disney Company who received her MBA at UCLA Anderson; and Barbara Hulit, senior vice president of Danaher Business Systems who received her MBA at the Kellogg School at Northwestern.
All three women agreed that their MBAs had opened doors and possibilities they never thought were available. However, while those opportunities were created, they all agreed it was their work ethic that carried them through. “At some point in time I learned that it was more important to be in a space where I was learning and contributing and being valued and respected by those I worked with,” Hulit said. That spirit laid the foundation for her career path, no matter what the job title was.
And, as all three progressed, there were gender issues to confront. “Being a woman, the spotlight tends to be on you a little brighter than male colleagues,” McCarthy said. “Turn that into an asset that can help you succeed.”
During the question and answer period, an attendee asked whether questions about family and career would be asked at a conference for men in business and why the topic is always a part of conversations about women in business. Olian suggested that, as women further along in their careers, they had a responsibility to speak for those coming along behind them. “We’re answering that question now so that we can grow past that issue, and so someday the younger generation won’t have to talk about it,” she said. “There won’t be statistics about women doing one-third to one-half more chores around the house than their male partners.”
In the end, Desoer represented all four women’s positions that the most important career focus should be about hard work, perseverance and values. “Make sure you know at your core what things you will never compromise,” she said. “Write them down somewhere and stay true to that always.”
The three-day conference will continue Saturday with more keynotes, panels and networking.
For more on Forté head to their website.