Highlights from the United State of Women Summit at the White House

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Highlights from the United State of Women Summit at the White House

The United State of Women, a summit hosted by the White House last week, was a like a good old-fashioned church revival with a go-girl message. A couple thousand women gathered in one room to drink from a geyser of oratory inspiration served hot by a cast as varied as the President and First Lady to Warren Buffet and a local Girl Scout troop. Oh, and Oprah!  It wouldn't be a stirring spiritual gathering of women without Oprah. The two-day event was a call to action for America’s women. I could not help but be swept away by the electrifying flow of motivating stories and congratulatory cheers. Together, we were fueling the momentum started by beleaguered generations of women before us.

(Editor's Note: You can watch the full summit here.)

The most powerful speaker, of course, was the most powerful man in the land.

President Obama proclaimed that “progress is not inevitable,” which was a great message to the younger women who seem to imagine that bra burning and suffragette hunger strikes happened in the Pliocene age.

The President called today’s workplace policies “straight out of ‘Mad Men’” and urged that modernization requires companies “to recognize that today’s families and work arrangements come in all shapes.”  It’s a plea worth repeating to HR officers everywhere:

“We need equal pay for equal work. We need paid family and sick leave. We need affordable child care.  We’ve got to raise the minimum wage. If we’re truly a nation of family values, we wouldn’t put up with the fact that many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth. We should guarantee paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave, too.”

Here are some of the most inspirational words I heard that day:

  • Tory Burch announcing that “It’s time that ambition in a woman is as attractive as it is in a man.”
  • Nanci Pelosi’s declaring: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
  • Julie Hanna, Executive Chair of the Board, Kiva, inspiring all with this message: “One dream can transform a million realities … and that’s the most hopeful truth I know.”
  • The actress Connie Britton underscoring women’s multi-tasking prowess: “We are leaders. We are mothers. We are friends. We are workers. We are wives. We are initiators of change. And that’s just for starters.”
  • And for a kicker, Britton adding: “We certainly don’t have time to deal with interference from anyone else about the choices that we make about our own bodies.”
  • General Lori Robinson of the United States Air Force reminding us that the United States Military is a meritocracy on day one. “Starting out day one with equal pay. Starting out day one with paid leave and starting out day one with the opportunity to dream and dream of adventure.”
  • The charming and wacky Amy Poehler, who founded an organization celebrating Smart Girls, waxing sentimental: “I feel today a wonderful pull between the impatience of youth and the reluctance to settle. And the wisdom of those who have come before us.” And then urging us to honor our uniqueness by “Changing the world by being yourself.”
  • The esteemed Maya Angelou sharing the sage advice: “You need to know that you alone are enough.”
  • TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes telling us what she does about haters: “Ignore them.”
  • Mikaila Ulmer, the 11-year-old CEO who turned a lemonade stand into the Me & the Bees Lemonade empire, leaving no one unmoved with her hard-earned wisdom: “Be fearless. Believe in the impossible. And dream like a kid.”
  • First Lady Michelle Obama speaking of self-actualization: “There is a limited box that we are put in, and if we live by that limited definition, we miss out on a lot of who we are.” And once you know who you are, she added, always remember: “The best revenge is success and good work.”
  • Of course, wise words from Oprah were the simplest, too: “Until you take your last breath, you are always growing.”

By then end, it was clear what a feminist looks like in 2016: A middle-aged African American man, an octogenarian billionaire, an 11-year-old CEO, and scores of women from across the country in every shape, size and shade.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the United State of Women.

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