Although I should be planting flowers on my terrace and cutting fruit for a party Sunday, or at the gym, or at least sleeping in, I am looking forward to heading down to the financial district early Saturday for the Forte MBA Women’s Leadership Conference. By another feat of LinkedIn, the organizer reached out and asked me to speak to participants on a panel about "The Road Less Traveled".

I didn’t hesitate when Forte asked me to contribute my Saturday morning to their event for two reasons. First, I lovethe organization, whose mission is “to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women". They offer scholarships enhanced by a host of other services and mentorship for women in full-time MBA programs. They also host great events, on- and offline (watch some past Forte events here), for women of all ages and across sectors. These efforts are important.

While I am not a Lean In missionary (details are for a separate post), I do feel strongly that MBA programs are an important sphere of power where women remain tragically underrepresented. Particularly in Executive MBA programs, targeting more senior professionals, like the one I did at Columbia and London Business Schools, women are a small minority of the class. Ours was one of the more balanced cohorts with 25% women.

As we have learned - though not acted on - diversity on boards (including more women than the 16.6% US average)improves corporate performance. Given that a large part of the value of MBAs (especially Executive programs, whose students have more experience to share) is learning from peers’ experience and backgrounds, it is in everyone’s interest to have more women contributing to those discussions. Unfortunately, on a ‘traditional’ female lifeline, Executive MBA timing directly overlaps with prime childrearing years, and pregnancy and infancy are not easily compatible with 20+ hours of class and schoolwork on top of a full-time job. I’m honored to be part of Forte’s work bringing attention to these challenges and encouraging women to pursue MBAs, seeking help from schools, employers, and family members along the way.

The second reason that I am looking forward to Saturday’s panel is the topic of discussion: taking the “road less traveled" after completing an MBA. It is important for business-minded (and trained) people to go into “non-traditional" MBA fields like non-profit, social enterprise, and impact investing. These organizations need forward-looking and agile strategy, efficient operations, and masterful leadership perhaps even more than traditional businesses, since they don’t heap financial bonuses on top performers.

Since women are particularly likely to be attracted to those sectors, I am eager to spread the word that an MBA is a very relevant qualification for such jobs, despite popular ideas to the contrary. Thank you, Forte, for the invitation, and more importantly for the work you do all year round!

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