Henricks is ICAN’s president and CEO. Kaminski is chair of the ICAN board of directors and vice president of HR talent management for First National Bank of Omaha.

Once again this spring, something important happened here in Omaha. More than 3,000 business leaders and aspiring leaders gathered at the CHI Health Center for a day of learning, inspiration, networking and leadership development. And most were women.

This annual event, which has grown exponentially over the years, is the result of insight, planning and a commitment to a vision for the city. Back in 1981, when the U.S. was going through a serious economic recession, several women gathered around a table to strategize what would be needed for a prosperous economy and thriving future workforce in the metro area.

No. 1 on their list was women in leadership positions.

Together, they created a nonprofit called ICAN, the Institute for Career Advancement Needs. We’re seeing their efforts proactively shape the professional landscape for women across metropolitan Omaha and the region to this day.

A new generation of women is now leading organizations across the region, and yet the need for quality leadership development is more important than ever if we want to remain relevant and keep our business community strong. The local headlines on brain drain and job market make it clear: We have a talent shortage in Omaha. Companies are struggling to fill their open positions here and are eyeing other metropolitan areas with larger candidate pools. But that’s not all there is to this story.

This spring, 384 companies committed resources and time to leadership development for their teams, investing in a competitive future by participating in the largest women’s leadership conference in the region — the ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference. This signature event has quickly become a destination for professionals across the region. This year, Omaha hosted 3,000-plus attendees from 37 states and attracted national speakers, including journalist Judy Woodruff and futurist Michael Walsh, to inspire women — and men — of all ages.

The ICAN conference also serves as a catalyst to company-specific leadership development through post-conference events that follow at many companies in the Omaha metro area.

First National Bank of Omaha is one of those companies. This year, an additional one-day session was held to focus on conference learnings, how they translate across the company and how they will support company-wide strategic goals. Union Pacific Railroad, Bank of the West, Farm Credit Services of America, Lincoln Financial Group and Nebraska Furniture Mart, among other companies, also held post-conference leadership development and networking events, using the conference as a springboard to enhance leadership and personal development and culture across their teams.

ICAN’s founders recognized years ago the benefits women in leadership positions bring to the workforce. Companies are recognizing that women have an advantage over men in behaviors such as empathy, collaboration and creating safe and respectful workplaces. We are glad and inspired to see businesses acknowledge the advantage of tapping into the women talent pool.

We still have work to do. Nationally, the need for more women leaders continues to be apparent. Although we’ve made strides since 1981, Pew Research Center’s 2018 report “The Data on Women Leaders” revealed only 4.8% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies were women. But some trends are looking better: In 2017, Pew reported the share of women sitting on boards of these Fortune 500 companies has reached 22.2% (up from 9.6% in 1995).

Leadership development opportunities have helped ICAN’s graduates and conference attendees accelerate their careers and transform the organizations and communities they serve. Through this conference and ongoing, year-round leader development programs, ICAN is helping ensure Omaha is better prepared to compete with other cities for talent. The impact of leadership development is so important — Omaha and companies that invest in our women as leaders should be applauded for proactively feeding the pipeline of talent.

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