Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of addressing a room full of 1,500 outstanding women – as well as a few good men – at the annual North Carolina Governor’s Conference for Women. It was an honor to join North Carolina’s governor, Bev Perdue, along with Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, elected officials, and women from across the state.
I was especially proud to be representing President Obama as the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. I had the chance to share some of the lessons I’ve learned during my own career, and to describe the ways the Obama Administration is working to create an environment where women and girls can reach their full potential.
In recent decades, women have caught up to men in a variety of areas, but as the White House’s “Women in America” report showed, disparities remain. Women continue to underperform in science, technology, engineering, and math. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in both politics, and the private sector as well. And women still earn just 77 percent of what men earn.
President Obama is committed to closing these gaps. He knows that we cannot overcome our economic challenges without the contributions of women and girls.
That’s why President Obama’s education plan is designed to increase the number of women who study science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called “STEM” skills that will prepare them for the jobs of the future. It’s why President has made workplace flexibility a key element of his labor agenda, and has surrounded himself with a group of strong women in the White House, and throughout his administration. It’s also why the very first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthens a woman’s right to sue her employer for equal pay.
I ended my remarks by discussing this year’s Google Science Fair. The Google Science Fair was, in many ways, a metaphor for the global competition that will define the 21st century. Over 10,000 young people submitted projects, from 90 different countries. President Obama was thrilled to hear that this year’s winners were three teenage girls from America, and he invited them to the White House so he could personally congratulate them on their achievement.
As President Obama said, “Even at a time of great uncertainty, their stories remind us that there are still discoveries waiting to be made and unlimited potential waiting to be tapped.” I know that the women leaders I met at the North Carolina Governor’s Conference for Women will help make those discoveries, and help women and girls reach their full potential.
Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.