Empowering Women in Business: A chat with SWIB and Forte Presidents Kelly Jahnsen '19 and Amy Tran '18

For our readers, can you both please explain the difference in mission between the Society for Women in Business (SWIB) and Forte (JWIB)? 

Amy: From my understanding, SWIB is a much larger organization than Forte. SWIB caters towards women in any major who are interested in business. As long as you are a female on campus and interested in business, you can sign up to be a member of SWIB. To be in JWIB though, you have to apply.

Kelly: Additionally, we have the emerging leaders program, which is our rebranded JWIB from a couple semesters ago. Our organization has 1,500 students who want to sign up. Personally, I view it as a platform for freshmen to move on and join other organizations on campus, as it’s pretty competitive to get into anything now. But it’s also an opportunity for older students to mentor younger students. The main difference is that, for us, we bring in more students every year. In Forte, members dedicate themselves to Forte in freshman year and extend it out to senior year.

Amy: Yes, so Forte is more like a traditional club. It’s small; you join, you go through education series, you do a couple of projects to get to know people, and then you stay on until your senior year when you graduate. Because of the size, Forte is more close-knit, and we try to focus on that internal aspect. So we have a lot of internal training, education, social events, and private events with corporations to maintain that bond. Typically, we have events every week, and for most weeks we have one education series and one speaker or corporate event.

 Most business clubs and organizations on campus are predominately male. How have SWIB and Forte worked with clubs to work towards a more equal representation? 

Kelly: I think definitely, for us, it is giving female students the opportunities to grow and build their resumes along with the mentorship process. For example, I helped some of our SWIB members prep for PGN interviews. I tried to help them with that and help them make their mark across campus.

Amy: We try to do the same, but we also think that what Forte offers is very different from a lot of the other business clubs. We look for people with potential and teach them soft skills, because we’ve noticed that even before these people join student organizations, a lot of these girls are not as confident in themselves as their male peers and don’t believe that they can do it. Again, like SWIB, we try to empower all of our members and bring them all to an equal footing so they can start on the same level.

Kelly: I really agree with that. At our first meeting, we focused on Networking 101, which may sound basic, but when you have a freshman coming in who doesn’t understand that you should send an email after having an interaction, what you put in that email, you have to make sure they are able to stand out in a positive light, as opposed to a guy who is in a finance club first semester because he vibed well with the people in the club.

Have you had conversations with leaders of these clubs to discuss these problems?

Amy: For example, in MICC, which is another club I’m a part of, we have been trying to take in more women, but it is always an issue. People have to be really aware of that because sometimes it’s subconscious. You don't know you’re judging candidates by something that is extremely stereotypical, and we try to point that out. Being in Forte helps me be more aware of these stereotypes, and I try to put that across.

Kelly: I started to realize that when you look out in a room where I’m the only girl… it’s a problem. It’s definitely a problem, and that's why we encourage our members to actually go and attack things they want and to not be intimidated by the fact that everyone in the room who is interviewing you is a guy. It shouldn’t deter you from an opportunity.

Amy: Recently, a portfolio manager at Fidelity told me a funny story. She once had a female intern who came into her office one day saying, “Oh my God, I just had a meeting with 15 other people today, and I was the only woman.” The intern was freaking out, but the portfolio manager had the opposite reaction, “That’s awesome! Congratulations!” What surprised her was that a male intern would never say the same thing. Even being cognizant of the differences can be looked at as a positive thing.

What do you think about women being considered as diversity during recruitment?

Kelly: I think it’s definitely a positive because, honestly, it’s true. I did Sales and Trading this summer, so I was on the trading floor, and a lot of my coworkers were men. I was in groups of three interns per rotation, and I was the only girl in two of the rotations. So I think in some industries it’s a pretty fair point, and it gives us a leg up.

Amy: This past summer, in my group, more than half of the interns were female, so I personally didn’t feel like we were a minority or diversity candidates. But it was interesting to attend all the women’s events and see the issue of many women dropping out or how few women remain at the top. I think the extra encouragement helps because a lot of people wouldn’t have applied or stayed for a long time had it not been for these programs.

Kelly: It needs to be equalized. I definitely had male mentors throughout the summer, but I wanted to have someone who I could physically see myself being, and that’s not always there if there are not enough women on the floor.

What do you think is the greatest barrier for women in leadership?

Kelly: Our guest speaker spoke about this earlier—when women present an idea, it’s not always taken seriously. She explained that the idea already has skepticism around it, maybe because you do not have the context or connections that male counterparts may have. I think that’s the one thing that deters women from leadership is that they’re not able to express their good ideas and implement them.

Amy: I definitely agree with that, and Kelly, I’m sure you’ve been in meetings where you’re the one leading the meeting, but when everyone else first walks into the room, they look to a male figure first to see who’s the head. I think we need to overcome the bias that if a male and a female were in the same position, somehow the female isn’t as capable, before more women can take on leadership roles.

 Can you provide advice for female students on campus on how to navigate exclusive business organizations and the workforce?

Amy: Be confident and know that if you think you are as good as everyone else in the room competing for the same job, you are. Just because someone else is more outspoken or outgoing doesn’t mean that they are more qualified. Capability is not something you can see based on first impression or looks. It is more internal, so don’t be intimidated or shy away from the competition.

Kelly: Find strategic mentors. Make sure you get to know these people really well and trust them fully. Give them all the information, anything that you have questions on, anything that you are worried about, and make sure you relate that to them because they are there to help you. So if you hold anything back, it’s not going to help your future. Find the right people and the right network around you. If you fall down, you need people around you to support you.