Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, came to Pittsburgh today to give a pep talk to a room full of women.
"It is women who will lead us forward," she said in her keynote address this morning at the United Steelworkers International Women's Conference, taking place this week at the Wyndham Grand Downtown.
The conference, which this year drew about 1,000 people, is sponsored every few years by Women of Steel, a program that promotes leadership and activism within the United Steelworkers union.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a news conference following her speech that she was "proud" that USW president Leo Gerard asked her to address the conference.
"Anything I can do to help make sure that we can lift up other women, and help them step into leadership roles and build their skills so they can be a strong voice on the causes and passions that they have is something I'm always proud to be able to do," she said. As a mother with young children, she said she tries to lead partly by example, to show that balancing work and family is possible, but also by speaking to women, such as the Women of Steel, about "seizing the moment."
As chair of the DNC, she said part of her mission is to "get more women into the pipeline of leadership and build the bench" so that when opportunities do arise, there are women in line to take them.
The Women of Steel program has a similar goal.
What began as a training program for women in a traditionally male-dominated union has evolved into a leadership course that talks about, among other topics, "stepping outside your comfort zone," said Ann Flener-Gittlen, the program's director. Through the course, Ms. Flener-Gittlen said, she has seen women who were afraid to speak up find their voices.
Issues important to women and families might not be prioritized or reach the tops of agendas if all or most of the voices speaking up belong to men, Ms. Wasserman Schultz said.
"The introduction and the propulsion of issues important to women and families reaches the top of the agenda when there are more women's voices in the policy-making role, whether it's a policy-making role in a labor union, or a policy-making role in Congress, in the halls of government," she said.