Actress Helen Hunt helps celebrate women at Fresno conference

The Fresno BeeSeptember 17, 2013 

Actress Helen Hunt got personal at the annual Central California Women's Conference on Tuesday, sharing private nuggets about her own fertility challenges and telling women to love themselves from the inside out.

The conference -- held at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center in downtown -- attracted a sold-out crowd of 3,537 and 166 vendors. Tickets were gone by August, which event organizers say makes this year the third-fastest sellout in the event's 26-year history.

Hunt was the keynote speaker at the day-long conference.

The Oscar and Emmy-award winning actress, best known for starring as Jamie Buchman in "Mad About You" and her roles in "As Good as It Gets" and "Twister," had fewer laugh lines than last year's speaker, actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Her speech was personal and intimate, focusing on the power of gathering women together and the things that make her life fulfilling.

Learning to embrace her own imperfections has been a big part of that, she said. She recalled auditioning for roles in teen movies in the 1980s, and always being told she wasn't "tall enough or short enough, or in one case, they said I didn't seem virginal enough."

As she's gotten older, she's made a conscious choice to rethink her image.

"My work demanded that I make friends with all those secret parts of myself I would like to improve or erase," she said. "What is worth something as an actor is all those messy parts of ourselves we think we're supposed to somehow delete."

And only taking meaningful roles is important too, she said.

"Unlike the junk food movies," she said, "the actual soulful movie is where I want to spend my time."

The conference, which was started by the late Fresno Republican lawmaker Ken Maddy, is intended to motivate and inspire women in the Fresno community to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.

Attendees said getting together with other women can be empowering, especially at a time when wage and other job disparities still exist.

According to a March report that evaluated the status of women and girls in California, just 3% of the state's 400 largest public companies have a female CEO.

In every occupational category women still make less than their male counterparts, the study from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles also shows. Those differences are most stark in certain healthcare and financial careers, where women make $20,300 to $24,000 less on average each year.

"The big question is, can women have it all?" said Gayle Phillips, a real estate agent. "I have four children ... I have a career and I want to be relevant until I pass away," she said.

Attending the conference helps her achieve her goal of being relevant, she said, because "it's about hanging out with the right women, learning and sharing."

Lynn Campama, a medical group adviser for Kaiser Permanente, was one of several at the conference who referred to the book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, when they talked about the status of women in society and the workplace today. Campama said women do face real barriers, but many are breaking through.

"I think more women are becoming leaders and I think it's much better when it's shared" at places like the Central California Women's Conference, she said.

Helen Hunt at Central California Women's Conference

Hlelen Hunt at VIP press event before the Women's Conference


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