21st Women in Leadership Conference to Focus on Gender Collaboration

WiL Conference Co-chairs Chiaki Nakajima, left, and Shipra Agarwal, right, with VP of Content Mike Matheson. All are FTMBA 17.

The crowd at the 21st Women in Leadership Conference may look a little different this year, with more men filling the seats and receiving high billing on the agenda.

That’s because the conference theme, “Power of Us: Collaborate, Inspire, Lead,” focuses on the need for men and women to work together to achieve full gender equity in the workplace and at home.

“When we started talking about this year’s theme, we thought about the issues we care about the most,” says Chiaki Nakajima, MBA 17, who is co-chairing the conference with Shipra Agarwal, also MBA 17. “We decided to use it as a platform to create a more open dialogue between men and women.”

The conference is expected to attract about 400 students, alumni, and other professionals to campus on March 11.

As the oldest student-led conference at Haas, Women in Leadership has long served as a forum for women to network, hear from high-profile female leaders, and to discuss the unique challenges and barriers women face.

Designed for dialogue

While this year’s gathering still provides plenty of those opportunities, with conference stalwarts like workshops on career navigation and feedback, it also includes panels designed to spark dialogue and action. Ultimately, it’s about getting as many men as possible engaged in the conversation, Agarwal says.

“All over the world, we tend to label people as being sexist or feminist,” she says. “But a lot of men are just neutral, and they just don’t think much about these issues. They need to learn how they can be better allies.”

For example, the morning plenary panel, “Leveling the Playing Field: Building Gender Equity Movements” is all about giving attendees tips and tools to bring back to their workplaces, says VP of Content Mike Matheson, MBA 17—the first man to serve on the conference leadership team.

The panel “Boss vs Bossy: How to be Both Ambitious and Approachable” will focus on the double standard for men and women who are assertive. Another panel, “Can we have it all? Leadership and Work-Life Balance” addresses an issue all men and women face: how to be a great leaders while also enjoying life outside of work.

Journalist and author Josh Levs will give a keynote address on a similar theme. After being denied fair parental leave after his child was born, he fought back and won. Levs went on to write a book on how workplace culture fails dads and families, and he has become an expert on the work-life balance issues facing modern families.

Over the past two years, men at Haas have become increasingly active in gender equity efforts. About a third of the men in the full-time program have signed a pledge naming themselves as “manbassadors.” Matheson and Patrick Ford, MBA 17, who co-led the manbassadors group last year, created a suite of programming for men who want to learn more about gender dynamics and how to better support women.

Agarwal says the conference team has also been encouraging conference sponsors and attendees to educate themselves on these issues. Organizers are also offering a 20% discount on each ticket for men and women who attend together.

For more information and tickets, visit wilconference.org.