The Women's Conference - History


The California Women’s conference first began in 1985 when the alarming failure rate of women-owned businesses became a recognized statewide concern. In an effort to help women business owners and promote available government resources, then-Governor George Deukmejian took action to create a conference focused on helping women gain access to financial, professional, and personal support. The Governor selected his hometown of Long Beach to host the first conference on September 23-24th, 1985. It was a huge success with over 2,000 members in attendance.

After its inauguration, Gloria Deukmejian soon assumed responsibility for the conference, which became known as the California Governor and First Lady’s Conference. Since then, the Governor of California and his wife, the California First Lady, have traditionally played a key role in the support and promotion of the highly-acclaimed event.

In 1989, the conference was established as a nonprofit public interest organization with a bi-partisan Board of Directors—an organizational move meant to ensure that changes in the Governor’s Mansion would not affect the continuity of the conference. With each successive California administration, the size and scope of the event has expanded considerably. Under First Lady Gayle Wilson’s chairmanship the conference expanded its focus to include corporate women and under First Lady Sharon Davis’s direction, the conference added a youth leadership program.

For over 25 years, the conference steadily became better-known. Its popularity increased significantly after the 2007 election of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California with the support of his wife, Maria Shriver. At her direction, it was renamed The Women’s Conference and the event attracted an extensive roster of high-profile speakers and celebrities. In 2010, the conference was attended by more than 30,000 over three days of events, a record for the conference’s 27 year-old history.

In addition, the event earned at least US$5 million to $6 million in revenues for the City Convention Center, local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

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