Duke’s first-year MBA class (my class) is 37% female. That might not seem very high, but it is actually among the highest at U.S. business schools. Since female MBAs are in the minority at business school, many companies and organizations host events geared toward female MBA students.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a few programs for female MBA students. These events helped me to understand the role women serve in MBA programs and the chance we have to make a difference going forward. At college and in my professional life, I have never felt that women were in the minority or had fewer opportunities than men; however, I only spent 6 years in the professional world prior to business school.

Unfortunately, at many companies, women are not advancing as quickly as men and there are fewer women in leadership roles. This is why companies, business schools, and other organizations have programs aimed at helping talented women obtain leadership roles in business. My old firm, KPMG, proudly sponsors their own women’s networking, mentoring, and leadership organization (KNOW), but I only attended a few of the events and did not have a chance to become very familiar with the network.

National Events Geared at Women MBAs

As an incoming MBA student, this past summer I attended two events catered to women. I attended these events to meet my new classmates, hear from accomplished executives, and get an overview of different careers available to MBA students.

Forte Foundation’s annual Women in MBA Conference

The Forte Foundation hosts an annual conference for incoming or current MBA students at Forte-sponsored schools. In June, I attended the conference in New York City. The night before the conference, Duke hosted a dinner for attendees with Fuqua’s Liz Riley Hargrove, Associate Dean of Admissions, and Sharon Thompson, Director of Diversity Initiatives. The dinner was a nice, casual way to meet Liz, Sharon, and my fellow classmates and hear more about Fuqua. In addition, it coincided with my last day of work and was a nice way to bridge the gap between my old and new life.

At the Forte conference, we heard from distinguished women leaders from Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Bain, and Xerox. In addition, a pair of female entrepreneurs from London Business School who started The Fold as students, gave their insights on running a functional startup. We also heard survival and networking tips from panels of second-year students and corporate recruiters. Lastly, there was a career fair and networking reception where we had a chance to learn more about opportunities for MBAs. Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience. Every keynote speaker was amazing, accomplished in their field, and gave us lots of encouragement and lots to look forward to. The panelists were very open and honest and gave us their best tips on how to survive our first year.

Credit Suisse’s MBA Explorer Program

My second event, Credit Suisse’s 2011 MBA Explorer Program, was a two-day diversity pre-MBA event that showed incoming female MBA students the exciting world of Wall Street and financial services, including investment banking, private banking, sales, trading and research. About 40 participants from business schools around the country came to Credit Suisse’s New York City headquarters and met each other, listened to presentations from each division, participated in sales and trading and investment banking simulations, and networked with various executives. My highlight of the event was a speech by Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Global Head, Diversity and Inclusion at Credit Suisse. This event was also fantastic and gave me a great inside look at life at Credit Suisse and careers in banking.

Women in Business at Fuqua

Attending the summer events made me realize how important it is to support women in business. So I decided to join The Association of Women in Business (AWIB) at Fuqua. As part of the club, I am an admissions coordinator and will help facilitate the Annual Duke MBA Weekend for Women, which is aimed at prospective Fuqua students.

Now I have been at Fuqua for almost 2 months. So far, I have attended the Center for Financial Excellence’s Women in Finance night at Duke, which included accomplished female finance professionals who spoke about their experiences since leaving business school including rising along the corporate ladder. There was a networking reception where we had the chance to ask these women about their career progression. I also attended a panel put on by AWIB that highlighted research from Jenny Heflin called, “Be the Captain, not the Coordinator.” Jenny earned her MBA from Georgetown and conducted research on women’s roles in study groups at business school. We had the chance to ask Jenny about her research as well as hear best practices relating to team work from second-year Fuqua women. It was very interesting to attend both of these events and hear war stories from people who have already encountered the obstacles that I am or will be facing.

I look forward to working with AWIB on coordinating the annual Duke MBA Weekend for Women (November 3-6!) as well as attending more AWIB and Forte events throughout my first year.