If you put yourself in a room of Fortune 500 CEOs in July 2019, what would you see? The room would be made up of only 6.6% women (although this is a record high), and only one person (0.2% of the room) would be a woman of color. In the fight for equal rights and representation, getting women and minorities into positions of power in the business world is essential—but who is working to make this happen?
Enter Mariska Morse, Vice President of Marketing and Operations at Forté. Forté is a nonprofit organization that provides women with equal access to an infrastructure that empowers them to rethink what’s possible for their career trajectory and earning potential. Forté’s initiatives include business and leadership conferences, year-round career programming, GMAT preparation for business school applicants, fellowships, and networking opportunities. To date, over $180 million in Forté Fellowships have been awarded to 8,000+ women pursuing their MBAs.
Mariska’s passion for creating educational pathways for women is personal. She started her MBA, but never finished; kids and several big moves got in the way. It was a career boost Mariska wished that she’d had. When she started working at Forté, Mariska realized that she could right that wrong for other women. She’s made it her mission to build supportive programs that make it easier for women to navigate the MBA application process, complete their degrees, and pursue the careers they deserve.
Currently, Mariska is working toward her Master’s Degree from Tulane University. Her story and her work continues to change the trajectory of countless women’s lives. We spoke with Mariska Morse to learn more about her mission to elevate women into positions of power and influence in business.
Name: Mariska Morse
Job Title: Vice President, Marketing & Operations
Current home base: New Orleans, LA
Originally from: Indianapolis, IN
Superpower: My energy!
One thing on your bucket list:
To attend a women’s world cup soccer game!
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
Live your best life — don’t leave anything on the table.
“Good as Hell” by Lizzo (Hard to pick though! I also love “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, The Greatest Showman songs, anything by Lady Gaga, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and more!)
A book or article you read in the past year that you would recommend:
Educated by Tara Westover
A woman in history you admire & why:
Sally Ride. She was an incredibly brave and smart woman, and she sacrificed her life for the future.
A present-day woman you admire & why:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Queen Elizabeth, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama. All of them broke barriers as women leaders in a white, male-dominated world.
What inspired you to start or join your current company/line of work?
Women’s leadership is an easy thing to get inspired by. It is a marketer’s dream!
How do you feel yourself making an impact and generating positive change through your work?
I work to reduce barriers for women so that they will find a clear and inspiring path into leadership. In the U.S. in particular, we’re still operating under archaic structures and rules. It’s 2019 and there are more men named John running Fortune 500 companies than there are women, total. The Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed in all 50 states. And groups composed entirely of white men are still making decisions about women’s health. Through my organization, I am helping change the balance of power in the workplace.
What is one thing you have accomplished through your work that you are most proud of?
In my 20s, I took the GMAT—the entrance exam for a Masters in Business Administration (MBA)—twice. It was an awful experience both times, and as a result, it made me second guess my goal. When I finally pursued an MBA, I was 31 years old and had competing priorities.I started coursework at Rutgers, but life intervened: we had kids and made several big moves. When we finally landed in New Orleans, I struggled to find a program that would allow me to transfer my credits. I never finished my MBA.
Through my work, I had an opportunity to right the wrong by creating a program called MBALaunch. This ten-month bootcamp is a road map through the MBA application journey. It helps women with GMAT prep, essays, interviews, and most importantly, it connects them to a support group of peers and coaches. In the last 6 years the program has helped 3,078 women reach their goal.
What is one major work milestone that you would like to accomplish in the next year?
I’d like to shift from a macro-to-micro segmentation strategy and deliver content that is more relevant to my audience.
What is one new project/endeavor you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I was just accepted to Tulane University to pursue a Master’s in Liberal Arts degree. My focus will be on gender studies and I’m very excited about this new goal.
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
One challenge is successfully reaching my target audience with important messages of inspiration and motivation. I want to inspire women to reimagine what’s possible; to stretch their goals even further than what they thought possible.
However, there’s so much online content that many consumers have started creating their own feeds to avoid being overwhelmed. I totally understand this, but I fear that this may lead some women to close themselves off to new possibilities.
Digital clutter means that we have to work extra hard to get the word out about all that Forté offers.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
Data. Data. Data.
While so many consumers are looking to protect their data, they also want companies to know what they want, when they want it. Don’t we love it when Netflix gives us suggestions? Or when those ads in your Instagram feed are exactly what you want to buy? I believe that the future holds some kind of symbiotic balance between companies extracting data from consumer behaviors, and consumers protecting their privacy.
What were you doing before your current role?
I worked for a couple of direct marketing agencies in Boston, MA. My clients included General Motors, Laura Ashley and Stop & Shop. I loved working in the agency business. I learned a ton and had a lot of responsibility at a young age.
What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received and why?
Be content. Ironically, it’s the opposite of who I am, which is why it’s good advice.
My very first boss, Mike Parent at Fitcorp, was the best first boss you could ask for. He taught me so much about sales, the importance of building relationships, and believing in what you do. At one point, he advised me to live in the moment instead of always looking for what’s coming next; to be mindful of what’s in front of you.
It was great advice that I keep in mind 25 years later. I’m still always thinking about what might be next, but I’ve learned not to act on it as much as I used to.
What is one of the worst pieces of advice you have ever received and why?
Early in my career, the worst advice I ever received was from a person in my family who told me not to get an MBA because I was already making a lot of money. That was dumb advice. Education is an investment and we should always invest in ourselves.
Can you tell us about a time when you took a huge risk/did something you were scared to do, and it totally paid off?
As an undergrad, I accepted an offer to work full-time and have my education paid for by that employer. It created a very non-traditional undergraduate experience, but it minimized my loans and gave me great work experience. Plus, I met my husband while attending a night class at Boston College. In New Orleans, we call that “lagniappe” (bonus).
Are there any great personal or professional resources you love that you would like to share?
I love reading The Broadsheet Review and The Skimm. Forté has tons of career resources, but a few other good ones are Career Contessa and FairyGodBoss. I also recommend daily exercise for mental and physical health, and travel as much as possible to provide perspective.
Is there a charity or cause you care about that you would like to share?
Yes, Forté of course! We are a nonprofit and need funding to pursue our mission: supporting the advancement of women in business. Readers can donate at fortefoundation.org. They can also join for free and become a member.
I encourage men and women to be active in creating change. If you don’t like what you see in the marketplace or in our government, use your own platform to make a difference. Vote! Buy products from companies that align with your values. Support organizations that believe in what you do. Each one of us has the power to make a difference.
Fun fact about yourself:
I love kickball (using the official orange ball—not the red recess ball). On my birthday every year, I gather friends and family to play the game. We go at least 7 innings. It’s competitive. No bunts allowed. Everyone loves it.
For more from Mariska Morse: