How Are Women’s Conferences Different?

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       

womens conference

Attendees of the female-only FAB Workshop listen to women-led panels and participate in immersive networking and story sharing.

“There is substantial research,” according to the World Economic Forum, “to show that diversity brings many advantages to an organization: increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities.”

Today, most global companies allocate significant budgets for diversity and inclusion along with targeted programs to better equip diverse talent to rise as leaders within their organizations. Professional associations can be a key resource to helping their members advance in this area.

After consulting on several successful association women’s conferences, I can confidently say that they need to be very different than other conferences in your portfolio. Here are five attributes that they share in common:

  1. They are moving experiences. All of the top women’s conferences that we’ve researched consistently sell out. General sessions are meaningful and inspiring personal experiences. Main room events are used to start and finish — bookend — each day with an emotional high. They deliver impact and relevance that creates a ripple effect that goes beyond the in-person participants. They recognize excellence through awards, highlighting individual and company success in advancing the women’s movement.
  2. They are not all about the industry. While providing content that is specific to participants’ industry or profession is critical for relevance, the conferences that have the greatest impact don’t focus exclusively on delivering industry content. Instead, they offer content on growing leadership skills or equipping the participants to move the diversity needle for their careers, teams, and employers. Sessions are often designed for immersive networking and sharing stories.
  3. They are about mission over margin. With few exceptions, women’s conferences are not designed to deliver significant funds to the bottom line. Instead, the goal is often to break even while delivering a high-value experience. Women’s conferences are often shorter — one- or two-day — programs. Most meals are group social functions.
  4. They are not women-only. The most successful conferences realize that they should model diversity by encouraging allies — or “manbassadors” — to support female empowerment.
  5. They are better served by sponsors than exhibitors. We have yet to find a successful women’s conference that has included an exhibit hall. Because of the nature of a women’s conference experience, it’s a better fit for companies to invest in sponsor packages that include access passes for participants. Sponsoring individual registrations for women sends a loud and clear message that those companies believe in and support women’s empowerment.

Women Lift Up Women

The majority of participants at the most successful women’s conferences will be at the director level or higher with 11 or more years of industry experience. While not excluding emerging professionals, conferences should seek to attract more experienced women who are more likely to qualify for the budget to attend: They have a higher profile and often are in a position to greater influence the company’s diversity goals and objectives. More experienced women leaders can impact the emerging professionals in their company by reaching down and pulling them up. That support is critical to a successful movement.

RELATED: Read “Men, Myths, and the 3% Conference,” by Jesse Dienstag on the 3 Percent Movement Blog.

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.