By Erin E. Arvedlund
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem took the stage Thursday at the 12th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women in Center City, and about 8,000 women seemed to hang on her every word — and her counsel to “become whole by venturing outside the home.”
At the keynote luncheon, Steinem was joined by and traded questions with actress/businesswoman Jessica Alba, who talked about how she founded The Honest Company, a personal-care products enterprise.
Alba recalled how, at age 5, she began calling herself a feminist.
“A lot of people said no to me” on the journey to found her company, Alba said, “but I needed that. In business, it made me determined to make it happen.”
Alba brought the Hollywood bling, but it was Steinem conference participants came to hear.
Pay inequity was her hot topic. Steinem noted that women are underpaid for their work outside the home, and that they should be paid for the caregiving work they do at home as well, perhaps through a mandated tax credit.
“It’s going to take a major rebellion,” Steinem said, laughing. Her comment drew hoots and deafening applause.
“But at least that way, our work acquires economic value,” she said.
Gov. Wolf opened the conference at the Convention Center, saying, as the father of two daughters, that “discrimination is stupid” and vowing to pursue pay equity in Pennsylvania.
“Equal pay would be a way better economic stimulus than bailout of the banks,” Steinem said. “We have to be fierce about it.”
She highlighted women in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) such as Sandy Lerner, inventor of the router and co-founder of Cisco Systems.
“Women invented the router that all of Cisco is based on,” Steinem told the crowd.
Alba said social change is happening through businesses such as hers, which promotes chemical-free beauty, personal and baby-care products.
“People are voting with their pocketbooks,” she said.
Steinem concluded her remarks by saying: “Behave as if everything you do matters, because it might.” Afterward, she signed copies of her recently released book, My Life on the Road.
At the luncheon and in the conference’s main exhibit space, entrepreneurs and attendees were in high spirits.
“I came to get motivated, to network. I brought my 28-year-old daughter because she’ll learn how to advocate the way I do in the community,” said Jeannette Davis, who runs the DIVAS Ministry out of Northeast Philadelphia. Her nonprofit creates baskets of toiletries for women in safe houses from abuse.
Valerie Crabbe, founder of Being Beautiful Foundation, helps place foster children out of group homes and into private family residences.
“I brought some of my foster girls here so they can see what kind of women they can become,” Crabbe said.
Chaya Duraiswami, a GlaxoSmithKline employee from Collegeville, said she came “specifically to hear Gloria!”
Three female founders of PinkWise attended the Philadelphia conference from North Carolina.
“There’s nothing like this down by us,” said Patricia Potts, co-founder of the online community for financial information.
“Women trust other women,” Potts said.
Vanessa Chan was prepping to pitch her product to QVC. A former McKinsey consultant, Chan founded a start-up last year for her product — a necklace that converts into earphones, called LoopIt.
Her KickStarter campaign for LoopIt launches in 2016.
“I got the courage to take the plunge by going to women’s entrepreneur events” hosted by groups such as Ellevate, a national women’s networking organization with a Philadelphia chapter.
Kim Ramirez, an alumna of PriceWaterhouseCoopers who with her brother founded FactSUMO, an education-technology startup already in use in the Trenton School District, agreed that the conference illustrated “the power of the network.”
“There are just so many women here,” Ramirez said.