SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Declaring this the time to “crack every last glass ceiling,” Hillary Rodham Clinton advocated forcefully here Tuesday for greater economic mobility for women and said she hopes to lead a divided nation into a “warm purple space” of compromise.
Clinton’s appearance before 5,000 female leaders in the heart of Silicon Valley’s technology industry left no doubt that she will run for president again. The overwhelming favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination, Clinton said that she would announce her campaign “in good time” and that she was nearly finished checking off her pre-campaign to-do list.
She previewed themes of economic fairness and gender equality that are expected to form the heart of her pitch to voters, test-driving a stump speech in which she wove together economic statistics and personal anecdotes to call for “a 21st-century economy for 21st-century families.”
“We have to restore economic growth with rising wages for the vast majority of Americans, and we have to restore trust and cooperation within our political system so that we can act like the great country we are,” said Clinton, a former secretary of state.
Central to her message was pay equity for women. Clinton singled out Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette for her advocacy during the Academy Awards telecast Sunday night.
“We all cheered at Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars because she’s right,” Clinton said. “It’s time to have wage equality once and for all.”
Clinton lamented that too many Americans “feel the ground shifting under their feet.” Wages for middle-class workers have been stagnant, she said, while executive pay continues to rise.
“In so many ways, our economy still seems to be operating like it’s 1955,” Clinton said. She added, “If we want to find our balance again, we have to figure out how to make this new economy work for everyone.”
Clinton’s speech, followed by a question-and-answer session with tech columnist Kara Swisher, was a paid appearance at Lead On: Watermark’s Silicon Valley Conference for Women, where tickets sold for $245. Organizers did not disclose her fee, but Clinton’s typical rate for West Coast speeches is $250,000 to $300,000.
The Santa Clara event kicks off a busy month of public appearances — many focused on women’s issues — before Clinton officially begins her campaign, a move expected in April or soon after. Republicans have been attacking Clinton for staying largely out of the public eye so far this year, with a “Hillary’s Hiding” campaign featuring a mobile billboard in Iowa, home of the nation’s first presidential caucuses.
In her remarks Tuesday, Clinton said too many women in the workplace struggle with child-care and family-leave policies. She sharply criticized U.S. companies — technology firms in particular — for promoting too few women to senior executive positions.
“You bump your heads on the glass ceilings that persist in the tech industry,” she told the audience. Noting that fewer science and technology graduates are women today than in the 1980s, she said, “We are going backwards in a field that is supposed to be all about moving forward.”
Clinton signaled some of the ways she might differentiate herself as a candidate from President Obama, her rival turned boss. She sketched out her vision to steer the economy beyond where Obama has led it and said she would try to deliver where he has not in bridging Washington’s bitter partisan divide.
“I’d like to bring people from right, left, red, blue, get them into a nice, warm purple space where everybody’s talking, where we’re actually trying to solve problems,” Clinton said. “That would be my objective if I decide to do this.”
Swisher, co-founder of the Re/code Web site, asked conversational but pointed questions of Clinton, often interrupting her and pushing her outside of her comfort zone.
On the dispute between Apple and Google and the government over encryption, Clinton would not take a stance. “A classic hard choice,” she said, invoking the title of her memoir as she dodged the issue.
She criticized the locker-room culture at many of Silicon Valley’s big tech companies, calling it “a very Wild West environment” that female workers find “distasteful.”
Clinton — who was introduced as “a modern-day suffragette” by Intel President Renée James — laced her remarks with personal anecdotes, signaling that she would embrace the historic nature of her candidacy.
She recalled being pregnant with her daughter, Chelsea, while practicing at Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, where she was the first female partner and where there was no maternity-leave policy. She also invoked her granddaughter, Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, who was born last September.
“What kind of world is going to be there waiting for her?” Clinton said. “It is a world of hope or fear? A world of possibility or shrunken, destroyed dreams? I don’t know.”