LONG BEACH, CA - Courage and willingness to step out into the unknown are essential leadership qualities, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told several thousand women at the "Women's Conference 2010 Main Event" hosted by California first lady Maria Shriver at the Long Beach Convention Center.
"It takes the willingness to challenge people to think in new ways and the willingness to try things in a way that wasn't done before," added the presiding bishop, who was among more than 85 featured speakers and 14,000 women at the event in downtown Long Beach.
Leadership also involves challenging "people to think bigger than their own particular self-interests," Jefferts Schori said. The panel discussion, "It's Time to Talk About What Happens When Women Lead," incorporated the conference's overarching theme, "It's Time" and featured a conversation about challenges and successes for women leaders.
The live webcast, moderated by CNN anchor Campbell Brown, also included as panelists Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!; Anne Mulcahy, former chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation; and Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television Group.
The day's lineup of speakers included a host of actors, celebrities, newsmakers and activists, including current and former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, Dr. Jill Biden, and current and former U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as actor Robert Redford and wellness advocate Deepak Chopra.
"The goal of The Women's Conference is to transform women inside and out – and then empower them to help transform our world as architects of change," Shriver said in a prepared statement. "We bring the world's greatest voices, hearts and minds in one place to deliver this simple, yet profound message, that we are the leaders we have been waiting for."
Jefferts Schori acknowledged that she is the only woman leader of a member church in the worldwide Anglican Communion, in response to a question about level playing fields.
After her 2003 election, some of her male counterparts, she said, "were extremely welcoming. Some laughed when they first heard I was elected. They just couldn't conceive of the fact that a woman could lead a church," she said.
"Sometimes the rejection is overt," she added. She described the way she responded when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said she could not wear her miter while preaching at Southwark Cathedral in England because women bishops were not yet allowed in the Church of England.
"I was informed before I arrived that I would not be permitted to wear my miter, my hat. I thought, this is pretty ridiculous; I thought I'm not going to offend the dean [of the cathedral], but I'm going to take my miter, I'm not going to let go of this symbol of my office. So I carried it," she said as the gathering cheered and applauded.
"In some sense I created the response that I wasn't going to back down. You have to sometimes work around things," she said amid more laughter and applause. "But we've still got a long way to go," she added.
Another panelist, Anne Mulcahy, agreed. "I think we're past talking about good efforts. It's time to talk about results," she said as the audience cheered and applauded. "There are 11 [women] CEOs in Fortune 500 companies," she said, adding that this is not exactly equal representation. "Two divided into 500 is 250," she noted.
The presiding bishop also received hearty applause while responding to a question about the role of government and corporations in making the workplace more women-friendly.
"If we as a society managed to ensure that the tools that are necessary, like maternity leave and child care, are available to the poorest among us, then we will have done the job," she said.
At an earlier session, First Lady Michelle Obama called upon attendees to help military families and Dr. Jill Biden described education initiatives.
In a touching farewell speech, Shriver summarized the last seven years of hosting the annual gathering, which has been dubbed the conference with a conscience. "This conference has become the nation's premier forum for women, for inspiring, educating and empowering them to go to college and to start their own business … to leave domestic violence situations and to rebuild their lives," she said.
She told the gathering that hundreds of thousands of women around the world were participating in the conference via satellite. About 500 women from New York University also participated in the conference via satellite.
The three-day event began with a 5-K walk along the Long Beach waterfront to raise awareness and money to fight Alzheimer's. During her remarks, Shriver referenced the struggle of her father, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., 94, with the disease.
Now in its seventh year, the conference incorporated six separate events, more than 165 speakers overall, and 30,000 attendees, according to organizers.
Included among those events were: a night at the theatre with "Love, Loss and What I Wore," hosted by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron and based on the book by Ilene Beckerman; a day of Health, Wellness and Transformation and a "Night at the Village" with vendors and others. The event was scheduled to conclude with the Oct. 26 Minerva Awards, honoring TV Host Oprah Winfrey, the Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor, Oral Lee Brown, whose foundation "adopted" an entire class at Brookfield Elementary School in Oakland, California; Sister Terry Dodge of the Order of St. Louis, who works with women ex-offenders and Carolyn Blashek, who created Operation Gratitude, the largest organization sending personalized care packages to deployed soldiers in U.S. history.
Shriver also announced that the women's conference's "WE Invest" program had surpassed $1 million dollars in microloans to women entrepreneurs in the United States.
In June 2009, the Women's Conference expanded its WE Invest program nationally in partnership with the Opportunity Fund, ACCION USA, and Kiva. They launched the first-ever online peer-to-peer micro-lending program in the U.S.
At an early morning gathering with the media, Shriver said she hopes that "The Modern House Call" partnership with health care companies that provided free physical, mental and financial health services to women Oct. 22-24, three days prior to the conference, will spread nationwide. Free vision, dental, medical and other services were donated to underserved women.
"It's been taking on a life of its own … if there's someone who can grow it in a way I wouldn't be able to, I'd be open to them taking it over," she told reporters.
-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.