Forté and Oxford’s 1+1 MBA provide a unique opportunity for women in business

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to recognize the outstanding women setting the stage for future generations. One such example is Zoe Woods, a Forté Fellow currently enrolled in the 1+1 MBA program at Oxford.

In short

Empowering women in business with Forté

The Forté Foundation is a nonprofit organization promoting gender equity in business education and the wider business world. Forté is particularly focused on encouraging more women to pursue a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree. In partnership with schools like Saïd Business School, they offer fellowships to promising women to make an MBA more attainable. 

For its part Oxford Saïd, at 48% women, has nearly reached gender parity in its MBA cohort. Zoe sees this as an indication of Oxford Saïd’s promotion of diversity more broadly. “Yes, gender is something that is easier to count, and it’s easier to measure, so that’s a great place to start. But I hope it opens people’s minds to the thought of how it’s really important to have people who represent a true diversity of thought in our classrooms because that’s when you’re going to have the most vibrant debates.” (05:31)

As a Forté Fellow, Zoe is committed to empowering women in business and creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment. Zoe has plans to lead by example and start a company after completing her MBA. That puts her on track to become a powerful addition to the Forté network. While becoming an entrepreneur was always in the back of her mind, it wasn’t until she entered Oxford that she found herself ready to make the jump.

The 1+1 MBA program: A unique opportunity

After completing a bachelor’s in business administration, Zoe joined Deloitte. She worked there first as a consultant and then as a researcher at the Future of Canada Centre, a group focused on improving Canada’s competitiveness. There she was writing on a range of topics, from diversity and inclusion in corporate environments to the future of artificial intelligence. However, researching solutions to issues wasn’t enough.

“To use a consulting term, we looked at a really high level, 30 000 feet if you will,” Zoe says. “So I knew I was coming to a juncture where I really wanted to take some of these great big ideas that I’d had the chance to research … and think about pivoting and maybe solving one of these problems on the ground.” (02:04

That’s when she decided the time was right to pursue an MBA. Her time with Deloitte gave her an appreciation of the multidisciplinary approach to solving pressing issues. So when it came time to apply, unlike many MBA hopefuls, Zoe applied to just one program.

Of the hundreds of business schools offering MBAs, only Oxford Saïd appealed to her thanks to the 1+1 program. The 1+1 program combines a one-year master’s degree from a partnering department with a one-year MBA. 

Zoe wanted to use the program’s first year to specialize in something outside of business and chose the Master of Public Policy (MPP). Now that she’s in the MBA, she finds that the programs complement each other wonderfully. 

“We’re currently working on a class called Global Threats and Opportunities, and we’re looking at how you change systems,” she says. “We’re particularly looking at farming and farming supply chains and how you can encourage farming to be more climate-resilient. I can look at it with some of the tools that the MBA has given me around supply chain, operations, and organizational behavior. … Then I can also look at it through my MPP lens and think about government and think about the role of other ‘non-market forces’ as they call them in the MBA.” (03:15)

Tackling the problems on the ground

Zoe’s ultimate dream is to use her company to make farming more sustainable. Farming has not traditionally been the focus of sustainability efforts, likely because most of us are far removed from agriculture. Lucky for us, Zoe comes from a family of farmers and recognizes the missed opportunities in the agricultural space.

“My grandparents had a farm, my partner’s family has a farm, and I love being outdoors and watching things grow,” she says. “I think that food is often one of the only connections sometimes we have to the natural world and this planet that sustains us. so I thought it was a really powerful place to spend time helping people think about the planet.”(08:59)

She has used her time at Oxford to explore possibilities to make her dream a reality. The impressive entrepreneurial ecosystem has opened doors for her and provided her with a network of like-minded individuals. 

“I’m currently working with a couple of other folks on a company in the circular chemical space that I’m really excited about,” Zoe tells us. The company aims to lower emissions and also make chemical feedstocks more sustainable. (05:52

The University of Oxford has a long history of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Saïd School of Business played an important role in fostering this culture. MBA students participate in the Entrepreneurship Project as part of the program and are supported by the Entrepreneurship Centre.

Students develop a business plan for the project for a new product or business model. Along the way, they get feedback from business professionals and investors. The project gave Zoe a chance to expand on her own startup. “I’m very excited to be able to use the company I’m actually working on in that course,” she says. (06:25)

Forté and Oxford’s 1+1 MBA program provide a unique platform for women to achieve their full potential. Forté provides financial support, while the 1+1 gives the time to explore more of Oxford than the standard MBA. 

“It’s just amazing to have the richness of this university in addition to the richness of the MBA. I’d say if you’re someone that’s looking for an MBA+, Oxford could be the place for you” (10:32)

For more information on the program, visit Saïd Business School’s ambassadors page to speak to Zoe and others.

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