Four Forté Fellows in the class of 2023 speak about their leadership of and commitment to women pre-HBS and the impact they would like to make at HBS. Temi Ojuade (MBA ’23) reports.
I was always convinced that the amazing women in the class of 2023 come from many varied backgrounds and have accomplished outstanding feats before deciding to enroll at HBS. Recently, I have become more convinced of a third fact, the women in the class of 2023 are exceptional leaders who will continue to make a difference in the world. Here, we share the stories of four Forté Fellows in the class of 2023 and the impact they seek to make during their time at HBS. The Forté Foundation, who sponsors the Forté Fellowship, describes the fellows as women who exhibit exemplary leadership, represent diverse backgrounds, and demonstrate a commitment to advancing women in business. These four women definitely fit the bill.
Alexandra Smith (MBA ’23)
Smith wants to advocate for current and prospective female MBA students who are interested in pursuing impactful careers and want to balance this with their personal lives, including the option of starting a family.
She has a strong track record of advocating for women while working in several oil fields in a male-dominated industry. In her words, “I was very active in the Chevron Women’s Employee Network leading events and initiatives. I once organized a conference where a woman overseeing 150 men on an offshore facility told our audience that she had tried to hire two female operators to join her all-male crew. In response, some male operators stormed her office, informing her that she could not hire women because they menstruate. Stories like these both shocked me and inspired me to continue dedicating time to ensure female voices were heard.”
Smith also volunteered to help Kazakh elementary school girls practice English while rotating to Tengiz, Kazakhstan as a Process Engineer. She was shocked to learn that she was the first female engineer ever to attend the school to speak with these young girls. The importance of female representation was made more evident to her through this volunteer work.
Smith described how she hesitated to apply to business school because she was concerned about balancing school with career and family planning. She is exploring starting or joining a startup and hopes to start a family within the next few years. Now that she is here, she is keen to amplify the stories of women who have successfully done this and support women like her who are looking to do this.
Isabella Yamamoto (MBA ’23)
Yamamoto has built several structures to empower women before enrolling at HBS. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, a country that frequently ranked amongst the bottom countries on the World Economic Forum gender equality index, gender issues were constantly visible to her. To solve those gender issues, she has consistently leveraged her opportunities to help women in the spheres she has found herself.
At a microfinance charity in Northern India, she worked with female refugees living in a camp near the Pakistan border to identify a marketable skill with the ultimate goal of helping them gain secure employment. Describing her experience, Yamamoto said, “I initially faced major obstacles, as the husbands of the female refugees did not trust me and resisted the idea that their wives’ skills could be their family’s ticket to economic freedom. Initial conversations went nowhere, and it would have been easy to give up and quit. Slowly, I managed to build trust with the men in the camp. After knocking on many doors to gain introductions to several local textile companies, I negotiated contracts with a local linen house to provide training and employment for many women in the camp.”
During her career in consulting, Yamamoto championed female recruiting by serving as a mentor to several aspiring applicants. Now, she wants to collaborate with the community of inspiring women at HBS to support women in business by serving in the Women’s Student Association. She would also like to work with the admissions office on recruitment initiatives targeted towards women.
Olivia Gillis (MBA ’23)
Gillis only learned about engineering as a possible career path at university. Since discovering this career path, she has participated in many initiatives to educate and encourage more women to pursue tech and engineering careers.
At university, she mentored first-year female engineering students through a “Big Sisters Little Sisters” program. She has also done many speaking engagements to encourage females interested in tech and engineering. Her passion for encouraging other women to pursue their dreams was evident when she said, “One of my favorite speaking opportunities was at a program introducing career possibilities in tech, engineering, and computer science to girls in grades 7-10. Seeing so many girls interested in technical careers was incredibly rewarding, and even if I played a minimal role in their decisions to pursue them, that would be enough.”
She has participated in numerous other initiatives tied to her passion for encouraging more women to become engineers. She co-founded a blog, EngGirlProblems, to share her personal experiences as a female engineer and inspire discussions that drive actions. She then served on the board of the Society of Women Engineers Toronto from co-founding the blog. Gillis and her co-founder helped grow the community using digital outreach and created an inaugural mentorship program reminiscent of what she lacked early-on in her career.
Gillis believes that changing the existing constructs and systems that prevent women from fully succeeding in the workplace requires people from across organizations to step up. She hopes to continue to step up and contribute to efforts to uplift women and challenge gender roles at HBS as she has done since her undergrad degree.
Ania Batko (MBA ’23)
Batko realized the power of a strong support system during her early days working in private equity. Her female mentors and the various support groups focused on women in finance helped her build confidence to excel in her role.
She has since focused on fostering a supportive and collaborative environment for females both at her firm and in her community. She helped plan her firm’s annual Women’s Executive Summit for the last five years, spearheaded a diversity & inclusion panel at her firm’s annual conference, and implemented more inclusive hiring protocols. She also joined the board of Synergist, a community empowering and connecting young female investors.
When asked about the impact she wants to make at HBS, she said, “At HBS, I plan to get involved with the Women In Investing Club and look forward to sharing my experiences and hearing those of others. I intend to support women who experience Imposter Syndrome by fostering comfortable environments where they can overcome their nerves and grow together. I am also looking forward to helping plan the Women Student Association’s Women In Business Conference. Finally, I cannot wait to learn from all of you, my new classmates–your unique perspectives will expand my horizons and strengthen my ability to advocate for women.”
Temi Ojuade (MBA ’23) is from Nigeria. Prior to HBS, she worked in special situations and distressed investing in London and at an education company in Nigeria. She loves amplifying stories of women. She enjoys baking and rewatching episodes of the medical series, Grey’s Anatomy.