A participant, sponsor, founder, and frequent speaker at women’s leadership conferences, I have collected the best practices I have seen work first-hand.  The conferences that are growing consistently year-after-year know they must not only empower, but engage participants.  That means it must be a collaborative dialogue, where male allies are a part of the discussion, and participants leave with actionable tools for positive change.

Take Integrating Woman Leaders Foundation.  Since 2010, this organization has been driving influential change through inspiration and impact.  They do not merely empower women to make positive changes in their careers, they provide tools to support and connect like-minded women.  Their workshops are interactive, and keynotes have plenty of time for questions and answers.  And, they encourage male allies to be a part of the discussion.  In 2017, they had 60 male allies in attendance, of the 900+ participants.  Also, featuring a male ally panel, with a candid discussion about gender equality, received rave reviews.

Their CEO, Kim Graham Lee, was an interviewee for our book ONE and provided great insight into enlisting the support of male allies.  In fact, a condition of her joining the foundation was to have a co-emcee that was male to show the unification of male allies and women leaders.

Iowa Women Lead Change, another women’s conference leader, is led by Tiffany O’Donnell.  I spoke with Tiffany recently, and she shared a passion for enlisting the support of male allies, or as she affectionately calls them – “the guys.”  She sees male ally involvement as a future trend that will continue to increase, and her team’s triad of conferences facilitate purposeful connections and networking.

In addition to what I have learned from Kim and Tiffany’s leadership, I would add some specific ideas from conferences I have developed with teams successfully:

  • Facilitate meaningful networking. Instead of the casual hang by the snacks and drinks atmosphere, find a way to build purposeful connections early on.  Gone are the days of hanging with your friends and coworkers at a conference, this is the time to meet new people that you need to know to build your career.  I have seen icebreaker questions with a round robin facilitation pair nicely to build rapport, find alignment, and gain exposure to a broader network of people.  Make it a healthy competition, and women will broaden their networks.
  • Encourage male ally engagement. Have a clear ask for women to invite their male allies to attend with them.  This does not mean it becomes a men’s conference.  It is still a conference to empower women.  It just means men are welcome to listen, empathize, and support.  And, when men are invited and recognized, they are likely to feel safe actually engaging.  This is a no brainer for women’s conferences seeking to grow attendance.  We’re leaving half the population out now with “women’s only” messaging.
  • Drive commitment to action. The worst feeling post-conference a participant can have is “that was great, but now what?”  Through collaborative discussions, and experts willing to share tools, there is no reason women should leave without a plan for success.  Simply driving home words, action steps, and firm commitments to scribe into their conference materials increases the likelihood of positive change post-conference.  My personal favorite question conclude with is – “what is one thing you will do as a result of what you have learned today?”  It drives accountability and positive change.

So how will you make your next women’s leadership conference an even bigger hit?

Interested in learning more?  Follow our blog series, download your Male Ally Action Plan, and order your copy of ONE at NextPivotPoint.com.

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