Maria Shriver, Meghan McCain Helping Women Find Voices

The Women's Conference strives to inspire, empower, and educate women.

October 26, 2009, 3:32 PM

Oct. 27, 2009 — -- Maria Shriver and Meghan McCain come from different generations and different political backgrounds, but both agree that women in America still face huge challenges trying to balance work and family and to find their own voices.

"The real challenge is for women who have children," Shriver told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Diane Sawyer today. "We need flex hours, job sharing, telecommuting. That's a huge issue in this country."

"I see it everyday," McCain added. "Women aren't given the choice to have a family and a job… women have to juggle both of these things."

Shriver, the first lady of California, and McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, are each appearing this week at The Women's Conference, the nation's premiere women's leadership event.

The conference features two full days of speakers and events that strive to inspire, empower, and educate women of all ages. Shriver and McCain are among the headlining speakers who also include three members of the "Good Morning America" family: Robin Roberts, Claire Shipman and Tory Johnson.

Shriver said she was impressed by the diverse group of speakers, which also includes former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Paula Deen, Elizabeth Edwards, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie B. Jarrett, Caroline Kennedy, Alicia Keys, and many more.

"What I love about this conference is the mixture of women," Shriver said. "Women come with all different voices, all different professions. They're successful at all different times of their lives."

Twenty-five thousand women are expected to attend the conference in person with thousands more expected to join online via a live webcast, making this a truly global event.

Maria Shriver, Meghan McCain on Women in America

This year's conference will take on a whole new significance as for the first time in our nation's history, half of all U.S. workers are women. But McCain said despite that parity, it's "shocking" that women haven't achieved equal pay.

"Still in 2009 women make 77 cents to every man's dollar," she said. "Women still aren't getting paid the same as men."

Shriver attributed some of that disparity to the professional choices women make when it comes to their careers, but added that "all of us, women and men, have to keep pushing for equal pay."

Tickets for the two-day event, which is being held at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif., sold out in less than two hours.

"You see at this conference the entrepreneurial sprit of women in America," Shriver said. "Women are opening small businesses at twice the rate of men. They feel by in large very unsupported by corporate America and by traditional businesses."

Shriver will be leading a session on grief during the conference, and said it's important to recognize the weight that women carry both at home and at work.

"I just lost my mother and I'm actually doing a conference today on grief," she said. "When anybody loses their mom…it's rough. You kind of dress up and try to put on the smile. It's been a real challenge for me to get through the day and keep myself moving forward."

Both women stressed the importance of family, but also said women can lead fulfilling lives whether or not they decide to marry and have children.

"Of course [you can live a fulfilled life wo getting married]," McCain said. "I want women to be able to do it all."

In response to this year's demand, conference organizers are arranging two additional events: A Day of Transformation and Night at the Village. A Day of Transportation will allow attendees to hear practical tips on self improvement directly from some of the nation's leading speakers. Night at the Village will be an opportunity for over 10,000 women to meet, discuss, and build a community.

McCain said she wanted to attend the conference to help fight "the innate sexism that is still going on in this culture" and Shriver said she was impressed by the 25-year-old's poise and point of view.

"I think she has her own voice, which is the most difficult thing at any age," Shriver said. "It's the greatest gift that you can give yourself, your family and this world."

"It's very empowering to hear that from her," McCain said.

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