All Articles Leadership Management Spotlight on Association Leadership: An interview with Forté Foundation's executive director

Spotlight on Association Leadership: An interview with Forté Foundation’s executive director

3 min read


Elissa Ellis-Sangster serves as executive director for the Forté Foundation, an organization dedicated to inspiring women business leaders. Ellis-Sangster brings to the role extensive knowledge of issues affecting women’s abilities to seek, prepare for and attain business leadership positions, drawn from her experience as assistant dean and director of the MBA Program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. There she oversaw all activities related to the full-time McCombs MBA program including marketing, admissions, student services and alumni relations.

Describe your leadership philosophy.

Build a strong team that complements your skill set and motivate them by giving them ownership of their work. Surround yourself with smart, hardworking people who want to succeed and are passionate about their work.

Tell us about the first time you were somebody’s boss.

When I think about the first time I was someone’s boss, I remember my first boss and all that I learned from her. She was open, responsive, provided me with regular feedback and always made herself available in a genuine way. And she always added in a dose of humor to keep us grounded. I’ve tried to model my approach to management after her.

When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide if someone is right for your team?

Because Forté Foundation is a virtual organization, communication is a key skill required to be successful. I also look for passion around our mission — passion forgives a lot.

What is the biggest challenge the Forté Foundation is facing in 2012?

  • We want to see female enrollment in the top business schools reach 45% to 50% enrollment for women. This won’t happen in 2012, but we want to continue seeing a positive trend.
  • It’s possible to get to 50/50, but many obstacles remain, including young women’s understanding of business as a career; lack of access to female business role models and advisers on campus who recommend business school to women; and inadequate planning during undergraduate years, when women need an internship and GMAT results to get into business school.
  • Beyond college, 22- to 29-year-old women face several key decision points around starting a family and moving to pursue a full-time MBA. Women are more risk-averse and likely to stay close to home for their education and future employment and are more willing to sacrifice their career prospects for those of their significant other.

What is the biggest challenge women in business are facing?

I think the biggest challenge facing women in business is having the confidence to do it their way and not second-guess themselves. They have amazing skills and abilities that drive strong, balanced decision-making, but in many places “their way” is not being recognized as the “right” way. It’s time for businesses to recognize the unique contributions that women in leadership bring to their organizations and begin rewarding and acknowledging them.

If a recent college grad came to you and said they one day wanted your job, what advice would you give them?

Get an MBA! Become an expert in something. Be curious.