Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State and Former U.S. Senator from New York addressed the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal on March 18, 2014. The topic of her talk remained undisclosed, and as many of the over 4000 audience members, I expected to hear a talk about international politics from one of the most powerful women in the world, as she contemplates her candidacy in the next presidential elections.
What was an unexpected and very welcome surprise is that the Former Secretary of State gave an inspiring 30-minute talk about women and leadership, providing an inspirational and empowering slogan “Dare to Compete!” that rivals Obama’s “Yes, We Can” rhetoric of empowerment and positive change.
Clinton remarked on Canada’s achievements in gender equality, with paid maternity leave, a high number of women CEOs in business and women leaders in politics, and its female premiers in 5 out of 10 provinces. Québec’s Premier, Pauline Marois, was in attendance, but she was heavily booed upon her entrance into the auditorium, while her opponent in the upcoming elections, Philippe Couillard, the leader of the Québec Liberal Party was welcomed with a long ovation.
Clinton has been advocating women’s equality, leadership, and empowerment since early on in her political career, and she plans to continue to do so, regardless of the upcoming presidential elections. She shared many personal stories, as well as research collected by specialists at International Monetary Fund on the global economy and the role of women.
As a woman in my early thirties, still in the process of building my career, and not yet finding the time to think about family and kids, even though most of my female friends already do, I found myself in a very rare, unexpected, and incredibly moving and inspiring place. I was sitting in an enormous auditorium filled with many professional women and men, addressed by a world leader who very eloquently and gracefully managed to make the personal political, and at the same time make me (and I’m sure every other women in the room) feel personally addressed, heard, represented, and encouraged to continue on our personal and professional paths with more courage and daring, not afraid to fail.
But perhaps just as important as addressing and inspiring professional women, Clinton’s talk is vital for men in various positions of economic and political power. The fact that the topic of her keynote was not announced beforehand perhaps strategically ensured that no male audience member would feel that the topic was not addressed to him and choose not to attend.
Unfortunately, feminism, women’s empowerment, and any other issue that pertains to women still remains “unimportant” to most men today. This is why Clinton spends her so-called retirement years (she is 66) touring the world, addressing international Boards of Trade about the need to include and advance women in the global economy. But she does it so well!
As Tina Fey noted in her book Bossypants, “The Palin/Clinton SNL sketch easily could have been a dumb cat-fight between two female candidates. What Seth and Amy wrote, however, was two women speaking out together against sexism in the campaign. In real life these women experienced different sides of the same sexism coin. People who didn’t like Hilary called her a ballbuster. People who didn’t like Sarah called her Caribou Barbie. People attempted to marginalize these women based on their gender. Amy’s line “Although it’s never sexist to question female politicians’ credentials” was basically the thesis statement for everything we did over the next six weeks. Not that anyone noticed. You all watched a sketch about feminism and you didn’t even realize it because of all the jokes. It’s like when Jessica Seinfeld puts spinach in kids’ brownies. Suckers!” (Tina Fey, Bossypants, 2011, p.216-217).
We all need a little more spinach, a little more women in positions of executive power, and a little more courage to “dare to compete”!