ICAN Women's Leadership Conference opens its arms to men

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Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014 12:00 am

An annual women's leadership conference is giving men a share of the day this year.

Men have always been welcome at the ICAN (Institute for Careers Advancement Needs) Women's Leadership Conference. But for this year's April 9 event in Omaha, the organization is adding a half-day of breakout sessions specifically for men.

When the conference began 21 years ago, men and women were invited to attend. As the years went on, it was women who responded. “There was such an interest that our conference became really just for women,” said ICAN CEO Mary Prefontaine.

But male participants in the organization's separate Defining Leadership program expressed a need for an opportunity to gather and network. So in November 2012, ICAN hosted its first Men's Leadership Exchange Forum, drawing about 120 men. That event led to a discussion about including men at the Women's Leadership Conference.

“Very few of us get to work just with women or just with men. We are a co-gendered society,” Prefontaine said. “Is it time to open up that conversation on leadership at our Women's Leadership Conference? Everybody around the table said, 'Let's do it.'”

About 30 to 50 men typically have registered for the Women's Leadership Conference, which drew about 2,100 people to the CenturyLink Center Omaha last year.

The conference's morning keynote speaker, author and professor Shawn Achor, will talk about the science of happiness and how it leads to success. Achor will host a breakout session for men following his keynote titled “The Happiness Advantage at Work and Home.” The conference will also feature a closing session for men, including a collaborative discussion with leaders in the community who take part in the ICAN Men's Leadership Exchange.

Men also have the option to attend the full day of the conference as usual.

“It's sort of a two-pronged approach,” Prefontaine said. “They're invited to attend, and they have their own track.”

Prefontaine said post-conference surveys of attendees over the years have indicated a declining number who said the conference should be only for women. It's now about an even split.

“It's getting closer to 50/50 so we thought, well, given the interest and given what people are saying to us and telling us, why don't we experiment? And that's what we're doing.”

Keynote speaker Norah O'Donnell, co-host of CBS's “This Morning,” said she sees value in including men at conferences geared toward women.

“Most men believe in equality for women,” O'Donnell said. “I think what happens is that maybe some people don't realize when they make decisions or say things that don't further that goal.” She added: “The more we educate men about the challenges women face ... it can be quite helpful.”

Prefontaine said the happiness theme of the conference will also touch on something that might be helpful to men — how to identify, express and respond to emotions in the workplace, or “emotional intelligence.”

“We teach girls how to deal with their emotions, but we don't necessarily teach boys how to deal with their emotions,” Prefontaine said. “A lot of the work we do with both men and women is around emotional intelligence. That is also going to be key to the agenda this year.”

If you go

What: ICAN Women's Leadership Conference, “Happiness: Bending the Bottom Line.”

When: April 9

Where: CenturyLink Center Omaha

Registration: Participants can register online for ICAN at www.icanglobal.net/womens_conference_2014. Registration is $289 for individuals; $199 for the half-day men's session, which includes the opening keynote and morning breakout sessions; $199 for employees of nonprofits or businesses with 25 or fewer employees; $69 for students and $2,999 for a corporate table, which includes 10 registrants. Prices include all educational sessions, the show and lunch.

Conference highlights

April 8

6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: “Happy” the movie, open to the public.

April 9

9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.: Opening remarks, award presentation and morning keynote speaker Shawn Achor, author and researcher.

1:45 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Afternoon general session, featuring keynote speaker Sherry Cooper, global economist; a panel discussion on women and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); and keynote speaker Norah O'Donnell, co-host of CBS's “This Morning.”

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