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Clinton to women: It can still feel like 1955 out there

Hillary Clinton, the first female candidate to seriously vie for the presidency, told thousands of Silicon Valley professionals Tuesday that despite strides in the United States for women, the economy in many ways is still operating like it’s 1955.

“That not just a problem for women,” Clinton told the audience of 5,000, most of them women. “It’s a problem for everyone.”

Clinton peppered her 35-minute speech here with personal anecdotes as she pushed women to work together to elevate more females to leadership positions, secure benefits in their workplace and change society to be more welcoming to families.

“It can be discouraging if you only look at the headlines,” she said. “But if you look at the trend lines, you can see there is a movement stirring across our nation. It is about putting families first. It is about creating a 21st century economy for 21st century families.”

Clinton, a likely candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, told the women that they could “crack every last glass ceiling.”

When she ran in 2008, Clinton avoided talking about her experiences as a woman, repeatedly saying that she was running because she was the best-qualified candidate.

But this time, Clinton has started to share more personal anecdotes about being a working mother and focusing on issues that might appeal to female voters including equal pay, paid family leave, affordable child care and access to health care.

On Tuesday, she regaled the audience with a story about how after she gave birth to her daughter, Chelsea, the lead partner at her law firm called to congratulate her and then asked when she was returning. When she told him in about four months, she said he was surprised.

“Inclusivity is more than a buzzword or a box to be checked,” she said.

Clinton was the keynote speaker at the sold-out one-day Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women filled with professional women at an event designed to increase the number of women executives. She was introduced by Intel Corp. President Renee James who called her “a modern day suffragette.”

“Hillary Clinton coming was something of a big draw for me, just to be able to see a very powerful women speak,” said Jennifer Adams, 39, of Santa Cruz, a senior product marketing manager at Plantronics, which manufacturers headsets. “It’s not really a political interest. It’s just much more of her as a strong woman.”

“Oh, I love her,” said Nupur Jain of San Jose, an engineer at Ericsson, a Swedish communications company. Jain said she thought she had a good shot at the presidency in 2008 and eagerly anticipates Clinton’s second run.

Clinton later had a sometimes lighthearted conversation onstage with technology reporter Kara Swisher, who asked her a series of rapid fire questions about whether she prefers an iPhone or Android, wears a Fitbit and would want to be Oscar host or president.

Clinton declined to say whether she was running for president. “I am obviously talking to a lot of people and thinking through.” But she told Swisher that she hopes the next president focuses on increasing wages and restoring trust and cooperation in the political system.

Next month, Clinton will be honored by Emily’s List, which supports Democratic women who favor abortion rights, will speak at an awards ceremony in memory of the first woman to be the national political correspondent of The New York Times and at a United Nations meeting on women’s rights.

Clinton’s work on these issues isn’t new. As a young lawyer, she wrote about children’s rights. As first lady, she wrote a book It Takes a Village about raising children. As secretary of state, she championed proposals to improve the lives of women and girls around the globe.

But the topic was notably absent during the 2008 campaign.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. said talking about women’s and children’s issues have been part of her life’s work but that she received advice to not talk about gender in 2008.

“In so many ways, that was a strategy that didn’t work for her,” she said. “We will be seeing something else in this campaign.”

Erin Souza-Rezendes, communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which produces nonpartisan research on women in politics, said female candidates have started to successfully use all of their life experiences to identify with voters or become what they call a 360-degree candidate. “They have the ability to do that and when they did it was effective,” she said.

Clinton’s change in tactics underscores the importance of women who vote in greater numbers.

They have favored Democratic presidential candidates since 1980. President Barack Obama won the female by large margins in 2008 and 2012 as Democrats attacked Republicans for waging a “war on women.”

Republicans say Clinton’s message to women in not authentic, citing a report this week by a conservative website that shows men and women were not paid the same in Clinton’s Senate office.

“If Hillary Clinton is going to charge women to hear her talk about leadership, then she should explain to them why she’s hired a mostly male campaign team, why she’s accepting money from foreign countries that don’t respect women’s rights, and why there wasn’t equal pay in her own Senate office,” said Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

A Clinton spokesman and conference officials would not say how much she was paid for Tuesday’s appearance. But the New York Times reported Watermark, a group of executive women in the San Francisco Bay Area, paid her an estimated $300,000. Tickets sold for $245.

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