APEC Conference features female workers

September 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some prominent women are in San Francisco, this week, for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. It's the primary forum for promoting trade among 21 Pacific Rim countries and this is the first time women are the focus.

Despite equal pay laws, U.S. women still earn 77 cents for every $1 a man makes, on average. However, women make up nearly half of the workforce and many Pacific Rim countries are recognizing they can't get ahead if they're leaving half of their people behind.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference is ushering in a new era that includes more women. Guest speaker Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, stressed the importance of working for companies who value women.

"I was a single mom. I raised my daughter on my own and it was very important to me that the people for whom I worked valued that being a mom was the most important thing I did," said Jarrett.

Tina Tchen, chief of staff for the first lady, says Mrs. Obama -- a working mother -- is pushing for more workplace flexibility. A report by the President's Council of Economic Advisors show companies with flexible work schedules are actually more productive.

"You have lower turnover costs because workers don't have to leave their jobs because they have to care for a sick family member. You have people who are able to stay longer in their careers and develop better," said Tchen.

Across the Pacific, the race is on to educate more women. Datin Paduka Haja Rokia is the president of the Brunei Women's Business Council.

"You talk about Singapore, Malaysia, they are fast in education and we want to compete, we want to make sure that we are not left behind," said Rokia.

Yang Lan is the Chinese equivalent to Oprah Winfrey -- a media baroness and talk show host. She says the wage gap between men and women is similar to the U.S., but the country's one child policy has created a generation of young women who are the family's only hope for the future.

"They have more demands for their personal rights and they want to realize whatever their dreams are instead of fulfilling some family responsibility so you see a very strong willed generation of women in China," said Lan.

U.S. companies are taking these cues. On Wednesday, Walmart -- which has been accused of paying female employees less than men -- announced it will spend $20 billion over the next five years on female-owned businesses.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver the keynote speech at the APEC conference on Friday. She was spotted Wednesday night leaving a San Francisco restaurant. Clinton is the driving force behind the effort to feature women in the conference.

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