Unlike in graduate programs like medicine and law, where women compose a large portion of students, the percentage of graduate business students who are female is about 35 percent nationwide.

Two organizations seeking to increase that number held a panel discussion last night in the Michigan Union about the advantages of an MBA.

The discussion was part of the “Leadership Launch” pilot program organized by the Forte Foundation and the University’s Society of Woman Engineers. The Forte Foundation is a national group, composed of 25 business schools, 17 corporations and two nonprofits, that was founded in 2001 to promote opportunity for women in the business world.

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business, whose MBA program is 31 percent female students – four percentage points below the national average – is a Forte member.

University representatives and women representing various businesses spoke about how to incorporate passion into a career, build connections early and define career goals.

Most of the roughly 40 attendees were undergraduate seniors looking to explore their options.

Organizers aimed to clear up misperceptions women have about the business world and earning an MBA, Forte executive director Alyssa Ellis said.

“Our research shows that women have this idea that business careers are not going to be as fulfilling – that they can’t do as much good,” Ellis said.

She added that an MBA provides diverse options other than working 80 hours a week on Wall Street.

One of Forte’s missions is to spread awareness about the importance of having strong business skills in any career.

Mary Hinesly, program manager of student services at the B-School, added that many women don’t realize the degree is flexible.

“An MBA does not change your path – it just adds a couple of more lanes to your highway,” Hinesly said.

Recent research is helping organizations like Forte understand the barriers obstructing women, such as the common perception among women that earning an MBA means getting stuck in an unfulfilling Wall Street job, said Mariska Morse, the organization’s director of marketing.

“These issues are coming to the surface because companies are realizing the importance of diversity in their leadership,” she said.

Although the University’s business school is below the national average in its proportion of women, it is the nation’s only program to employ a separate staff solely dedicated to the advancement of women in business.

As a founding partner and member of Forte, the University’s MBA program awards three $40,000 scholarships to women each year.

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