Women's conference encourages ambition

May 10, 2011 9:15:12 PM PDT
Twenty years ago, the Wall Street Journal coined the term "glass ceiling," referring to the barrier that keeps women from rising to the top of their careers. At about that same time, the Professional Business Women of California started helping women get into the workforce. ABC7 looks into what's changed since then.

You know you're at a women's conference when the men's bathrooms now say "women only."

The theme of this year's women's business conference was "connect, explore and inspire." Younger girls found inspiration in people like Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of consumer products, who joined the company when there were only eight people on board.

"One, I wanted to work with the smartest people I could find and two, I wanted to do something I was not ready to do," said Mayer.

There were 3,100 women at Tuesday's conference. At the first one, 22 years ago, there were only 40 women focusing on issues like women's rights in the workplace and how to access credit. Today, the focus is on helping women advance in their careers. Mayer says today more than ever, the Silicon Valley is a great source of career opportunities.

"It's really not about being a woman or a man, it's about being a geek and or being a great leader or being a great executive and gender matters less," said Mayer.

The conference also offered mentoring for young women. Anja Manuel is a scholar at Stanford.

"The one thing I would want to leave you with is, every time? just try it, don't be afraid, try it," said Manuel.

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says women are not making as much progress as they need to.

"The business community in the United States, C-level jobs, board seats, we stalled out at 15 to 16 percent of the total -- numbers which, and this is important, have not moved up in the last nine years," said Sandberg.

And at the Fortune 500 companies, only two percent of the CEO's are women. Sandberg says that's because ambition is not a word women like to embrace.

"There is a huge ambition gap and I promise we're not going to close the achievement gap or the power gap until we start with the ambition gap," said Sandberg.

Many here left believing once that gap closes, the glass ceiling will be a thing of the past.

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