“I have mixed feelings about international women’s day,” says Ruchi Senthil, one of two recipients of the Forté Foundation scholarship currently working towards their MBA at IMD.

“I feel like it’s a disservice to all the women who work for the remaining 364 days,” she continues. “We should celebrate women all year. Society moves forward more rapidly if there is an equal contribution from women.”

The Forté Foundation’s mission is to increase the number of women in business leadership roles. Both holders of the scholarship, Ruchi – who is from India – and Chinese national Xiaoting (Iris) He, agree that while they have not experienced particular hardship simply because they are female, they have both seen fewer and fewer women in leadership roles the further they ascend the career ladder.  

They do, however, acknowledge the good fortune they’ve had along the way. 

“In the emerging economies where we come from, China and India, we are blessed to be part of the middle class, the intellectual class of society,” says Ruchi.

“You wouldn’t see similar trends among the poor. Many of the girls wouldn’t even get to primary school, even though it’s free,” she added. “The middle class has grown by leaps and bounds in outlook.”

Xiaoting thinks that culture plays a strong role in society’s expectations around gender roles.

“Culture has a lot to do with the way people think. Change doesn’t happen overnight. So, I think it is very important for me to use my knowledge and experience to help bring about long-term change among people. That’s what progress is all about,” she says.

Going global

Both Forté scholarship holders have atypical but nevertheless outstanding academic backgrounds.

Ruchi comes from a family of doctors and always wanted to be a doctor herself. After navigating numerous obstacles, such as an arduous regime of study, low pay and job scarcity, she became a successful practicing physician.

But she wasn’t ready to stop there. Ruchi then went on to become one of the program managers for the Indian National Tuberculosis Control Program, the largest of its kind in the world.

Although she had already accomplished much in her professional life, she thought the IMD MBA and the Forte fellowship would help her take her career to the next level – the global stage. Her ambition is to use her business expertise and her background as a doctor to work for a non-profit organization such as the World Health Organization or Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND).

Ruchi’s plan is to help introduce innovative technologies into the world of healthcare.

“Healthcare lags a bit because it is expensive, time consuming and the returns are very late even for people in the medtech and biotech sectors,” she says

The driving force behind her career has been the desire to help people. “It was never about the money for me. It was always about wanting to do something for people. Medicine is a beautiful way to do that. I love my profession.”

Creating positive change

Xiaoting, meanwhile has an engineering degree and has worked at ExxonMobil since graduating. One of her passions, alongside her work, is an organization called Toastmasters International whose mission is to help people improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills.

She is also a certified personal trainer and provides public speaking training. Her overarching purpose, she says, is to help people instil positive change into their lives.  

“I love seeing someone transform from having little confidence to being able to express themselves clearly and confidently in front of a group.”

She has brought her passion to the MBA class and organizes public speaking exercises and activities for her classmates.

Xiaoting believes that up-and-coming female leaders should “find their real passion”.

“For a women you can sometimes feel pressure from family or the outside world. You have to look inside and discover what you really want to do and what you’re passionate about,” she says.  

Ruchi adds that women executives need to know that they have as much of a right to a career as anyone else, and that they should have the confidence to go where they want to go.

“There are rough choices along the way. But if you have the strength and support you can get there.”

The Forté Foundation’s mission is to increase the number of women in business leadership roles. Ruchi and Xiaoting receive a scholarship as part of their fellowship.