From strength to strength – the Forté Fellows on the Cambridge MBA
From building a community to why they chose Cambridge, we met up with our current Forté scholars and find out what their MBA year has been like so far and their plans for driving initiatives to support women in the MBA year ahead.
Applying to business school
Canadian/French born, Rachel Buchholtzer (MBA 2021) has a background in the arts sector prior to the MBA, in both project management and strategic partnerships.
“The reason I wanted to do an MBA was a desire to build a solid business foundation, as all of my business skills were learned on the job, and I felt that I needed some more core training to move into the next phase in my career.”
She continues, “Reaching out and speaking to other people who have either done an MBA or are also looking to apply for an MBA, was really valuable to me. Especially in the Zoom era, as it can feel really isolated doing all the research on your own.”
For Divya Dewan (MBA 2021), after a career that started out in strategy consulting and transitioned into the tech space in sales and then also into marketing, in India, Divya was looking to develop her business skills and start her own company.
“I would like to kickstart a high performance and emotional intelligence coaching venture for millennial women and Gen Z girls,” she explains.
“That is what I am trying to build and that is the main reason I applied to Cambridge, as it has such a strong entrepreneurial eco-system for future female founders and that, in combination with Forté, is the perfect platform for me to take my next steps.”
When Divya was applying to business schools, she went back to her ‘Why?’.
“Talk to the women who might have been in your space before and who have been through the journey already and can help give you tips on how to tackle your own journey.
“Borrow the lens of those around us, and of the women who have been here and have created space for more women in this environment. And along the way, go back to your why. Make sure it is your why and not from any societal pressure around you.”
For Mary Rasita (MBA 2021), from Indonesia, she started her career in E-Commerce and was a research consultant for a consumer goods company before embarking on the Cambridge MBA.
“My reason for doing the MBA is to enhance and strengthen my business fundamentals. I wish to expand my horizons and meet people from different industries and sectors globally. I am keen to explore product marketing in tech and especially consumer tech products.”
Mary attended the Forté Annual MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, joining online from Jakarta during the night with the time difference.
“It was inspiring to share stories about those women who have been through an MBA programme. Representation matters and hearing those stories really helps you feel you are not in this alone.”
Divya asked herself three key questions as she approached the Cambridge MBA scholarship application, “In relation to my past, present and future – have I invested in enabling other women before, have I taken hard core leadership positions before and how do I look at my future, is women empowerment a big part of this?”
Ultimately Emily Brierley, MBA Head of Admissions says, “Ask yourself, ‘Am I the right fit? What will I bring to the programme and what impact do I hope to have on the Cambridge MBA?'”
Overcoming barriers for women
Rachel says there is a lot of self-doubt during the process. Am I a good candidate, will I fit in? “It took me two years to get my act together and apply and I just wish I had taken those steps sooner.”
She continues, “The MBA space has traditionally been quite male dominated and this year it is amazing that 43% of the cohort are women.
“The GMAT/GRE is also a big hurdle, especially if you are working full time, it is hard to find the time to prepare and feel ready. I kept questioning my scores and reading online forums around this topic, and I really wish I hadn’t done that,” she explains.
For Mary, it was the cultural expectations on women, especially those from the Asian perspective, that she feels, still exists in many parts of the world. She recommends turning to those around you for support, “Talk to your loved ones and your family about why you want to do this and how it matters for your future.”
For Divya asking her existing mentors about her skills and strengths, “I tried not to forget myself in the process of trying to fit myself into the values of the school. As women we often look at other people’s strengths, but we sometimes find it hard to then find our own.”
Why Cambridge and why Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS)?
For Mary, coming from a non-traditional background, she felt that she would not be alone in the cohort, as there were others from similar non-traditional MBA backgrounds.
“I was looking for people who understand me and who want to collaborate with me. In this one year alone, I will be working on two very large projects, the Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) and the Global Consulting Project (GCP). I know I will be stepping out of my comfort zone and working with industry leaders, that it would have been unthinkable for me to have access to before the MBA.
“The breadth of the courses is so diverse, even just across this one term, I have studied more topics and covered more themes than I had in the last ten years in my career.”
Rachel similarly wanted to be accepted as a key contributor in the class, where her non-traditional background in the arts would be valued. “I have found that to be the case here, the diversity of the cohort and the range of nationalities and sectors just in this one cohort alone, as well as the diversity of the network across the wider business school community.
“The tech focus and the strength of the school’s connections to and integration with the Silicon Fen eco-system was also a big attraction for me.”
Mary adds, “If you want to build a career in the tech space then this is the place to be, I would say.”
For Divya, as well as the Business School’s connections to Silicon Fen, she was also, “Interested in the venture capital and investment as a woman I can access.
“I looked at the Cambridge MBA as an incubator, for me as an entrepreneur, so I could be a little bit more prepared to enter the market. The focus of the Cambridge MBA curriculum on entrepreneurship, within both the core courses, but also the Electives and the Entrepreneurship Concentration.”
She concludes, “I was blown away by the initiatives arranged by the business school, like Ideation and Enterprise Tuesdays and the wider focus on how to build an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Driving change and leading initiatives during the MBA year ahead
Building on the work of those Forté Foundation scholars in previous years, all three of our scholars are part of the Wo+Men’s Significant Interest Group (SIG) – now renamed the Gender Equality SIG – and also look forward to taking part in, as well as leading, initiatives across the wider business school community to support and develop women’s careers and self-belief.
“We are facilitating a number of coffee chats and meet ups, bringing women together across the cohort from different sectors to see what learnings they can gain from each other and to share their different experience and insights,” explains Mary.
“We are reaching out to those on the Executive MBA at CJBS, as well as the undergraduate University of Cambridge community to support those women coming up the ranks behind us,” continues Divya.
Mary, “The Gender Equality SIG is working to build the network within our cohort and upskilling the needs of the female cohort, for example, areas such as how to navigate your career – building this strong community of women within our cohort.”
Rachel expands this idea, “We are also trying to build a network across other MBAs and other business schools across Europe, for example, with other women led groups and initiatives. To extend and also build our network further still in that way.”
Divya goes onto explain how they have worked closely with the men across the current cohort. “We have involved a lot of men at this time and a lot of men have raised their hands to help with this journey. So, for example, how can we bring ‘men as allies’ conversations to the table and break the bias.”
Rachel concludes, “A lot of men wanted to get involved in the gender equity conversation and to offer their sponsorship and this is fantastic and something we are really trying to nurture.”
A home from home and College life in Cambridge
For Divya, moving to Cambridge for one year is the first time ever away from home and away from her parents and family.
“But you are not alone; you are already with others who are in the same boat, and they are also creating a home here in Cambridge and together we all create a sense of community here.”
She continues, “What makes me feel at home? So, I make sure I am investing in the areas that support me and give me energy – taking part in acting and singing with other people, for example. We have already formed a band and we are playing in a local pub soon!
“It begins with you asking yourself what fuels me and what helps me feel at home and then give time and patience to do those things.”
Mary says, “I live just outside the College, so I travel in each day, and I go for lunch at my College, Darwin College, each day and I visit the College Library each week to study.”
For Rachel, “The College infrastructure really does help welcome you and make you feel comfortable, very quickly.”
Mary concludes, “The people here are making it home for me. The people make each day fun and easier to manage, with all the study pressures that lie ahead. The University town is both energetic and feels homely, and with this huge student community across the Colleges and wider University, slowly Cambridge becomes your home.”
In partnership with the Forté Foundation the Cambridge MBA has increased its scholarship offering this year to five scholarships, available for entry in September 2022.