Every year, Cambridge Judge awards five Forté Foundation scholarships to MBA candidates demonstrating an exceptional commitment to female leadership. We spoke to this year’s recipients to find out more about their experience on the MBA programme and their top tips on applying.
For the past five years, Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) has partnered with the Forté Foundation – a non-profit organisation established to support women in business through education – awarding scholarships to MBA candidates demonstrating standout leadership skills.
We caught up with this year’s scholars to find out more about why they chose Cambridge, how they’re promoting gender equality at the Business School, their advice for women applying and what it’s really like to live and study here.
Why did you choose Cambridge Judge?
For Nigerian-born Kofo Adebiyi – former CEO of a start-up in Lagos – it was the focus on female leadership and development that helped Cambridge stand out.
“My position prior to the MBA was focused on supporting women across Africa and helping them build their professional and entrepreneurial careers,” she says. “Cambridge specifically appealed to me because I was looking for a community and for an environment that put a real focus on developing female leadership. ”
Another of the scholars, Meredith Bird, was working as a Business Analyst for a biotech firm pre-MBA; she joined the programme to help combine her science background with a greater understanding of the business world.
“I have a background in life sciences and biotech, and I wanted to gain a more traditional business education to pair that with,” she says. “I also thought it would be a good way to explore what other opportunities lie in the health and life sciences space that I might pursue in the future.”
For Ruth Douglas, a lawyer to the UK government, it was the combination of community and the chance to get involved with real-life projects that put Cambridge on the map. “I spoke to a huge amount of people in advance of applying to an MBA programme and the Cambridge MBA really stood out,” she says. “It was clear it was a tight-knit, diverse community of change-makers who were really bright and ambitious but also collaborative and supportive of each other. That’s a community I wanted to be a part of. I was also drawn in by the real-world projects like the Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) and the Global Consulting Project (GCP), which means you can put learning into practice straight away.”
What tips do you have for students applying for the scholarship and wider MBA programme?
“I think one of the key things is highlighting what’s unique to you,” says Aurora Kwek, a former business development manager at a market intelligence company, based in Singapore.
“A useful way to find that out is to speak to friends and family – it might be very obvious to you because it’s part of you, but you might be surprised by what they come up with.”
Kofo advises candidates not to be put off if they don’t have a traditional business background.
“I think one of the major barriers can be a bit of imposter syndrome,” she says. “Thinking, will you be enough for a world-class programme? And that can be especially true if you don’t have a traditional business background.
“But I think Cambridge Judge really looks for a diverse pool of voices and opinions and experiences. So, if you do have this feeling, as I did, about whether it’s worth applying, it’s important to remind yourself that your experiences are valid and unique to you, and that’s a strong claim.”
Krathika Parchani – who grew up in India and moved to Cambridge in 2019 to work for a start-up before embarking on the MBA – suggests speaking to former students on the programme to get their insight, and then tailoring your application to Cambridge specifically based on that.
“I think what really helped me was speaking to people who had done the programme, and getting their thoughts on why they chose it,” she says. “What was it that made the programme stand out? What were they trying to get out of it? Because being a part of Cambridge and being on the MBA here is very different from being on any other programme. And I think if you know that, it can make your application really stand out.”
What’s life on the MBA like?
“The timetable is very busy,” says Meredith. “I find it very invigorating and exciting because there’s something new every week. A typical day involves two to six hours of class, including lectures and probably some group meetings for your CVP.
“Then we’ll have lunch with colleagues and classmates at the CJBS café, and then get involved with other activities – maybe doing things at your college, perhaps going to formal dinners. So, it’s academic, but somehow you also find time to do lots of fun things.”
What are the benefits of belonging to a College?
“The Cambridge collegiate system is just a really great way for you to build connections in this larger university ecosystem, whether you’re living in college accommodation or just attending certain events, because every college has its own quirks and traditions,” says Kofo.
“I know a lot of people who have collaborated with people they met in their Colleges, because there’s so many interesting people working on a variety of great things,” she says. “Maybe it’s a start-up in biotech, and they need somebody who has more of a business background.”
“It’s really nice to meet people outside of the MBA programme,” adds Madeline Klein (Maddy), who helped build customer teams in the US for an enterprise software start-up, before her MBA. “I have friends who are doing PhDs in zoology and MPhils in linguistics, and it really expands your mind to hear what other people are doing.”
Aurora says she chose Newnham College – an all-women’s college – for its strong female support. “We have great support and funding for start-ups and a huge community of women to help you engage and discover what you want to do,” she says. “They also host female speakers every day, so you can always engage with other female leaders in the industry.”
What’s life actually like as a Forté scholar?
“I think the main benefits of Forté are the online platform you get access to, and the overall network of people,” says Maddy. “It gives you a built-in network of strong, powerful women, both at Cambridge Judge and from other institutions,” she says. “There’s also a resume book where you can submit your resume, and that book gets blasted out to all of the Forté employer partners.”
Scholars also get the opportunity to attend the annual Forté Foundation conference in the US in June, with special guest speakers and a careers fair offering further networking opportunities.
“I attended the conference this summer, and a lot of the speakers were former MBA Forté scholars,” says Meredith. “It was really cool to see the full circle of these powerful women coming back and speaking, and I thought that connection was amazing.”
“It’s also a pretty great brand to have,” adds Krathika. “It’s quite widely known across business schools, so it just makes you stand apart a little bit more.”
What other initiatives are there for women to get involved with at CJBS?
“Cambridge Judge hosts an annual Women’s Leadership Conference, which is a great opportunity for you to work with the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre [established to help foster a gender balanced workforce] and help with conversations around women in business,” says Kofo. “We had a variety of speakers from different fields, and I met a lot of people that I’m in contact with right now.”
Scholars and others on the MBA programme can also get involved with student-run Special Interest Groups (or SIGs), providing leadership opportunities in different areas. “I’m one of the leaders of the Gender Equality SIG,” says Maddy. “We’re currently running a programme where MBAs act as mentors for undergraduate women interested in business – so they get the experience of being in a leadership role and giving career advice.
“We’ll also be starting a mentorship programme soon where MBA women are matched with professional women in the workplace in an area of business that they’re interested in,” she says. “We’re going to source mentors based on their interests, so we make sure that they have a customised mentor they can speak with.
“We’re also planning on hosting various personal finance and personal investment management learning events. And then we’ll be hosting a wide variety of speakers and networking opportunities to give MBA women the opportunity to hear from and meet people in the field.”
What careers support is available at Cambridge?
“Even before you arrive in Cambridge, there’s a lot of material that’s sent to you,” says Krathika. “So, you can work on mapping out your career goals, and the kinds of values you want to live up to in your career.
“Then once you’re here, there’s a lot of recruiter talks, skills building workshops and so on,” she says. “I think the thing I like about Cambridge Judge is that the career services team can cater to a lot of different interests, rather than narrowing down on just a few sectors. It’s a really good opportunity to identify areas you specifically need support in, and then sign up for sessions that line up with that.
“I ended up doing some interesting CV review sessions with peers, and then there were some others around navigating your personal value and impact,” she says.
“Sometimes when you start the MBA, you might not necessarily be fixated on one particular career choice,” says Kofo. “I think those sessions help you understand the industry a little better and understand what possible career paths might look like. They also give you an interface with people who are quite frankly super busy, and that you might not be able to reach otherwise.”
What are your goals for the future?
“Following my MBA, I hope to pivot into the health technology industry,” says Meredith. “Throughout the pandemic, there has been a major shift in the way we think about and implement health care globally. I am fascinated by the opportunities to use technology to solve some of the most current issues and change the trajectory of the industry.”
“I want to soak up all the goodness on offer and really challenge myself and put myself out of my comfort zone,” adds Ruth. “My aim is that the Cambridge MBA will aid my future career by helping me build a growth mindset, a collegiate network and a powerful toolkit of hard and soft skills. I look forward to taking those lessons forward in my future career to help me maximise my impact and become the best leader and role model I can be.”
In partnership with the Forté Foundation the Cambridge MBA will be offering five scholarships for women joining us in September 2023. Learn more about the wide range of scholarships available to Cambridge MBA students