Wage Equality Takes Center Stage at Watermark's Conference for Women

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It's been quite the week for wage equality.

From Patricia Arquette's feisty Oscar acceptance speech to Hillary Rodham Clinton's tell-it-like-it-is keynote address at a sold-out Silicon Valley women's conference, the subject of gender pay gap and lack of female leadership has (rightfully) jumped to the top of the working world's Must Do List.

"Even though things have changed in many places, not nearly enough and not everywhere, in so many ways our economy seems to still be operating like it's 1955," Clinton told the 5,000 executive women at Watermark's Lead On Women's Conference, many of whom work with the Valley's tech giants. "We're going backwards in a field that's supposed to be all about going forward."

The former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State offered daunting statistics to support this "still shocking" backward slide. "The numbers are sobering," she said, citing recent industry reports:
  • On the Forbes list of the top 100 venture investors in tech, only four are women.
  • Women account for just 11 percent of executives in Silicon Valley.
  • Only about 20 percent of software developers overall are women.
  • A woman with a bachelor's degree here in Silicon Valley tends to make 60 percent less than a man with the same degree.
  • While nearly 60 percent of college graduates are now women, they earn only 18 percent of the computer science degrees. "That's actually less than half of what it was in the 1980s when women earned 38 percent of those degrees."
The tech industry, notoriously dominated by "white dudes" has been slow to tangibly respond to pay and leadership gaps despite the frequent uproar over the lopsided percentages at companies such as Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook. Women have also been firmly locked out of the billionaires' club that thrives in Silicon Valley.

Clinton said more needs to be asked of technology companies about closing the gender gap. "Companies should be held to account," she said. "It requires both men and women to speak up."

Thankfully, innovators such as Intel Corporation are speaking up -- and stepping up. In introducing Clinton to the warmly welcoming crowd, Intel's President, Renee James, talked about the recent commitment the company made to increase hiring, retention and advancement of women over the next five years. "We believe increasing diversity is a highly relevant issue for our industry and that it is time to do far more," she said.

"Building a diverse talent pool can't just be a nice thing to do. It is a must do," said Secretary Clinton. "When women's participation is limited, our country's prosperity is limited."

This Too Shall NOT Pass

"Sometimes when I would go out and talk about women's issues, which I've done for decades, and particularly as Secretary of State when I said that it was the great unfinished business of the 21st century because the data on all of this is overwhelming, I could see men's eyes glaze over. I could see particularly foreign leaders but some Americans too saying, "Oh yeah, here she goes. Just look like you're concentrating. Act like you're listening and this too shall pass."

Judging by the enthusiastic response of the attendees at the conference, the time for glazed eyes is about to be over for good. Hillary's speech alone received nearly 2,000 tweets while the event itself had a reach of 6,652,583. Top themes for the conference included Women and Men: Gender inequality, discrimination, glass ceiling , powerful women; Conference: inspire, amazing, strong, great conversation, excite.

The conversation continues to bubble on Watermark's Linkedin page and in social media.

"I like to participate in forums that truly support women from all walks of life and industries. I'd hoped to be inspired in unexpected ways --and I wasn't disappointed,"
Patricia Buchanan, Principal, 2D3D Solutions.

"What a learning opportunity! Of course I also went to network and meet women like me who run thriving businesses in Silicon Valley. I agree with Hillary. There's never been a better time to be a woman in the history of the world."
Janet Fouts, CEO Tatu Digital Media

What can you do to help advance the cause of women in the workplace?

"If there is an issue you have been stewing about, go out and find a group of people to lead on with."

Please speak up. "A helping hand or a kind word can make a big difference."

"Hill" also quoted the famous remark made by her friend Madeline Albright: "There is a special spot in hell for women who don't help other women."

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