LOS ANGELES — Hillary Clinton, California Sen. Kamala Harris and other female leaders told thousands of girls Friday about their experiences with inequality as many of the young women wondered whether the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men will help balance the scales as they follow their own ambitions.
About 10,000 middle school and high school girls flooded the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Girls Build Leadership Summit, described by organizers as the largest event of its kind in the nation.
The gathering comes as sexual misconduct allegations have rocked Hollywood, politics and beyond. The event focused on activism and leadership, but harassment and assault against women in the workplace loomed large.
“I’m really distraught to see that women trying to get to higher power what men try to make them do to get to that place,” said Shayna Sanders, a 16-year-old from Compton who aspires to be a professional basketball player or an FBI agent.
Shayna said she’s glad women have found the courage to come forward to make the workplace better for girls like her.
“I feel like it’ll definitely change my generation coming in, seeing so many men exposed,” Sanders said.
Clinton didn’t directly address sexual misconduct but told the girls that she’s experienced unfair treatment.
She wanted to be an astronaut when she was young but got a letter from NASA saying it wasn’t possible. The former Democratic presidential candidate said there were schools she couldn’t apply to and scholarships she wasn’t eligible for as a woman.
That shows how important it is to elect more women to political office and have more of them in boardrooms, Clinton said.
“I hope that every remaining barrier, every legal or attitudinal barrier that still exists that tells a young girl, ‘You can’t do that because you’re a girl,’ or makes a girl think that we tear down once and for all,” the former senator and secretary of state said to thunderous applause.
Angela Sanchez, 15, of Arleta, said she wants to do something to help women and change the way they are treated by men.
“I would like to see more girls be empowered, feel comfortable walking down the street at night, getting in an elevator full of men,” she said. “A lot of women are still afraid.”
Moj Mahdara, CEO of Beautycon Media and a speaker, said before the event that it’s long past time for change.
“These people need to be held accountable,” she said. “My entire career, I’ve been told, ‘Boys will be boys.’ ... Men need to wake up to the fact that we’re just as competent as they are and capable, and we don’t want to be discriminated against.”
Sen. Harris spoke about often being the only woman in the room and said she’s even been discouraged to run for certain elections.
“Remember you are never in those rooms alone,” she said. “We are all in those rooms with you. When you’re in those rooms you stand up, you speak out, you express your feelings, you express your thoughts, and know that we’ve got your back.”
Clinton described a similar experience.
“Oftentimes, if you’re one of very few women in the room, you will present an idea, and nobody will pay attention to it,” she said. “And then a little while later, a man will say the same thing, and everybody will say, ‘That’s a great idea.’
Clinton offered some advice to the girls if they encounter it.
“When they say to the gentleman, ‘That’s a great idea,’ I say, ‘I’m so glad John likes that idea because he and I can work together because I came up with that idea, too,’” Clinton said. “It’s not any direct attack or challenge. It’s trying to make common cause.”