Three decades ago, the ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference launched with the singular purpose of helping professional women develop the skills to compete and lead in the workplace, classroom and all other areas of daily life.
Today, the annual conference is the preeminent event for thousands of attendees both live and virtually. For Aileen Warren, a longtime participant in the event before joining ICAN as president and CEO last year, the leadership conference has evolved over the years, but one thing still remains: its mission.
“The reason the conference has continued to be a success over 30 years, even in the years when we weren’t able to meet in person, is it’s definitely meeting a need in the community when it comes to leadership development, especially for women,” she said.
“We have so much support from companies in Omaha and women in Omaha who see this as valuable. We have tons of people in the community that believe in ICAN, believe in what we do. And it’s a wonderful day; we’re open to anyone and it’s energetic, it’s educational and people come to network. It’s fun.”
Registration for the 2023 event on May 17 is expected to cross the 3,000 mark, putting the event back to pre-pandemic numbers. The majority of registrants will attend in person, but organizers are continuing with the hybrid model to help extend the event’s reach.
“The hybrid grew out of the pandemic; we had a fully virtual conference in 2020 and we shifted to hybrid for ’21, ’22 and again with ’23,” said Allison Zach, ICAN director of marketing, communications and events. “We’re looking to continue to grow the reach and access of the ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference to additional geographic regions and new organizations.
“A benefit of our hybrid conference is attendees have access to the conference session recordings, which has become standard, but was new for us in the past couple of years. That kind of experience for attendees extends for 30 days where they can go back and re-watch or catch the breakout sessions they didn’t attend.”
In addition to the usual slate of nationally recognized speakers and informative breakout sessions are new elements directly related to the conference’s 30th anniversary. One such feature, “Honor a Leader,” allows individuals to recognize an important leader in their lives. A similar new feature is called the “Small Business Squad” which recognizes small businesses and organizations for their support of ICAN and the leadership conference. Both programs are available for a small fee.
“Leadership development is what we do at ICAN; that’s our specialty and we want to be able to recognize leaders in the community who have made an impact or who are making an impact,” Warren said. “For $30 or more, people can go to our website and complete a form about a leader who has impacted them in their life and talk about why they want to honor that individual. We will then give them a shoutout at the conference for the impact that they have made.”
Eye on Diversity
ICAN continues to drive diversity and demonstrate community awareness at the
conference by making it easier for anyone to attend. The conference scholarships (open for application through April 17) assist people in attending the event who might not otherwise be able to participate due to cost. The ICAN Scholarship Fund is supported through individual donations and the generosity of corporate partners, in particular The Lozier Foundation and Bank of the West/BMO.
“We have made a greater concerted effort around ICAN in extending our scholarship fund and the number of scholarships that we have to offer,” Zach said. “It’s very important as we commemorate the 30th anniversary conference that we’re really creating opportunities to have women across industry, across geography and across socioeconomics be a part of the conference.”
Asked what remains relevant about the event, and why it continues to grow even after all of these years, Warren said the answer was simple: Leadership matters more than ever.
“Leadership is just not for people who sit in a corporate office,” she said. “You can be a leader in your church, you can be a leader in your school. There are so many different ways that leadership shows up. We truly believe that the information that our speakers provide that day can be applicable across the board.
“The thing I am most excited about is just to feel the energy that comes with that day. I’m excited to hear all the speakers, of course, and to walk through the exhibitors. I’m excited to talk to the volunteers. But it’s just to be in that room that day and to feel the energy and to feel the excitement and to feel the camaraderie. That is the thing that I look most forward to because there’s nothing like it in Omaha, in my opinion, that brings that kind of excitement and energy in one place.”
Full conference details, agenda and registration can be found at ICANconference.com. Registration will be open until May 1.