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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Forte Forum 

Yesterday evening I went to the Forte Forum in London. for those of you that don't know ( and don't want to follow the link), the Forte Foundation is a relatively new corsortium of B-schools, companies and non-profit foundations that aims to encourage and support women into business leadership roles. Among other activities, it runs a series of fora in various cities (mostly the US, last night's London event was the first international one, apparently) exploring 'The MBA Value Proposition'.

There were two main elements to the evening - a panel discussion and a 'B-school Fair' of the schools involved in Forte. The panel element was opened by the Dean of the London Business School (LBS were hosting the event) who spoke about the importance of developing and retaining female business leaders, and the fact that the proportion on female MBA applications plummets once you get outside North America. She said that the proportion of female students in business schools in the US pretty much mirrors the proportion of applicants, but there are many fewer non-North American female applicants, which makes it more challenging to have a good proportion of female students at schools such as LBS.

The panel comprisses an American Yale grad who'd been in non-profit before business school and had switched to financial trading, an American MIT Sloan grad who'd transitioned from being an economist with the Federal Reserve to brand management for Diners Club, a South African LBS grad who'd moved from corporate lawa to set up the Fresh! organic sandwich company (I highly recommend their sandwiches - not cheap but really good) and a South African LBS student who was just starting her first year. In addition, alumnae from various other schools were in the audience and chipped in with answers to questions.

It was interesting to go to an event that was focussed on the benefits of an MBA rather than on any one school of programme in particular. I also found it interesting that the vast majority of the questions were general rather than 'female focussed', much more so than at the Stanford information session for women a couple of weeks ago. Given that I'm already very much set on going to B-school, I wasn't really the prime target audience for this event and I didn't come away with any startling new revelations (although maybe some useful information to use in a scholarship application). I'd beenb tempted to bail out earlier in the evening - getting there had necessitated working in the office rather than at home (which is what I usually do on a Monday), and being able to get to the office in time to leave early enough had necessitated getting up at 4am, so by the time I was heading to LBS I was very tired and hadn't had time to get something to eat so was also very hungry - but I'm glad I went. There were c 50 potential applicants there, and I think the discussion communicated that an MBA is worthwhile investment that enables you to expand your horizons and opens new doors (and helps keep them open should you decide to have a career break to start a family). It was also heartening to see the panel so cheerful about taking on and paying off debt to finance it. (One of the panelists mentioned that when she graduated lots of people got signing bonusses which took care of a big chunk of the debt. I was sitting behind Alex Brown from Wharton, and his reaction to this suggested that it wasn't something that current applicants should count on, though.)

As I already know where I'm applying, I was less interested in the 'fair' side of things, which went on before and after the discussion. I introduced myself to Alex, to put a face to a name, in the early session, and then headed home once the discussion was over. All in all, I think it was a worthwhile evening. Some of the organistion could have been a bit better (clearer signage, better use of people to direct participants, more signing-in sheets, a less surly security guard on the front desk) but I hope it will have encouraged some good applicants. I also hope Forte consider doing some undergrad events in the UK. I was conscious that last night they were preaching to the at least partially converted (women who've decided that an MBA is at least worth exploring) but there must be a whole lot more who've never thought of it.


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