Maria says she inherited the hosting duties when her husband took office, but she's worked to make the conference something more than a small gathering of businesswomen. "I said, 'I want to approach it as a newswoman. I want to create kind of a television show. I want to bring people from all over the world,'" she says.
Over the years, it's become the largest gathering of women in the nation. "The conference has grown by leaps and bounds," she says. "The goal of it was, for me anyway, to make every woman feel that she was the leader she was looking for—that she had that within herself."
Women across California are responding to Maria's message. In 2008, the conference broke records by selling out all 14,000 tickets in less than three hours—faster than sales for a Madonna concert! Maria says she was stunned by the response. "It shows me people want to come together," she says. "They want to hear inspirational people, and they want to be part of a community, which is so exciting."
If you can't make it to California, you can still see The Women's Conference's speeches and awards ceremony. Find out how to watch a live stream!
What inspiring speakers are on the schedule this year? On October 22, 2008, The Women's Conference will welcome Bono, Warren Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and many more to the stage.
At the end of the day, Maria says she hopes every mother, daughter and sister feels united under a common cause. "I think so much divides us. We're always like: 'This woman is a stay-at-home mom. This woman works. This woman is pro-choice. This woman's pro-life,'" she says. "It's all about labels that divide us. ... Both of your choices are right. You've chosen to have children. You've chosen not to. They're both right. [I want] to say that we're all in this together."