Hillary Rodham Clinton urged hundreds of women business executives in Boston to “dare to compete,” in a speech Wednesday that was part pep talk and part political call to action.
Clinton did not directly address the possibility that she may run for president again in 2016, but paid tribute to women leaders across the world, from Liberia to Chile. She wove together anecdotes about sexism she encountered on the campaign trail in New Hampshire in 2008 and in foreign countries as secretary of state.
The full participation of women in society is “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” she said at the Simmons Leadership Conference at the Seaport World Trade Center.
The speech in Boston was closely watched because it was on the home turf of Senator Elizabeth Warren, a fellow Democrat who many on the left hope will run for president in 2016, despite her repeated declarations that she will not do so.
Clinton made one reference to Warren, when she noted that only 20 percent of US Senate seats are held by women. She said, “Your great senator, Elizabeth Warren . . . has joined the women of the Senate,” and added, “Women have to support other women.”
Clinton also mixed talk of women entering corporate boardrooms with exhortations about economic inequality, an issue that Warren has made central to her political agenda.
“Let’s get serious about inequality in our own society,” Clinton said.
Though she was not coming to Massachusetts to campaign, Clinton was establishing a presence in a state that will be a rich fund-raising territory for presidential candidates of both parties. Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that is raising money for a potential Clinton run in 2016, has been active in the state, holding a high-dollar fund-
raiser last month at the Union Club of Boston and a fund-
raiser for young professionals at a downtown bar last week. The suggested donation was $20.16.
Clinton’s speech also came as she is preparing for a blast of new publicity. As she noted, “I just turned in my book.” Her memoir, “Hard Choices,” is set for release in June and will inevitably boost speculation about her White House ambitions.
Clinton also pointed out that she is preparing to become
a grandmother, since her daughter, Chelsea, recently announced that she is pregnant.
Referring to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, Clinton said, “When she was elected, she was a grandmother, something I relate to, sort of.”
Clinton’s 30-minute address struck many familiar themes from previous speaking engagements across the country and included some elements of a stump speech, such as a biographical tidbit about her father, “a self-made small businessman.”
Mostly, however, it was focused on encouraging women to break barriers in public and private life. She lamented that women are too often plagued by self-doubt and a desire to be perfect and acknowledged that she has been in “a lifelong struggle” with the “perfectionist gene.”
“It’s always surprising to me how many young women think they have to be perfect,” Clinton said. “I rarely meet a young man who doesn’t already think he is.”
She told the audience of the misogynism she has confronted over her decades in public life, recalling that while campaigning for president in New Hampshire in 2008, some young men jumped up and exclaimed, “Iron my shirt!”
“You know, iron it yourself!” Clinton said. She added that she also thought to herself, “Really? That’s the best you can do?”
After her speech, she took questions submitted by the audience. During that half-hour session, she expressed anguish over the 2012 attack on the
US diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. “It was very painful, and it was certainly the biggest regret that I had as secretary of state,” she said. “It was just deeply sorrowful.”
That was the only somber moment in an otherwise upbeat address that opened with a tribute to the Boston Marathon, which Clinton said sent “a message of hope, resilience, and determination.”
Her remarks sparked cheers and applause from the women in attendance.
Heather Johnson, a senior product analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield, said she appreciated that Clinton urged women to support other women.
“I can’t think of a more true statement than that,” she said. As for the possibility of Clinton running again for the White House, she said, “I’m all for it.”
“If anything, what she said today just reaffirmed my thoughts on that,” Johnson said. “I definitely think she has a great vision.”Michael Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@ globe.com.