Nearly 400 attendees from around the country welcomed a stellar line-up of speakers at the 2nd Annual Invest In Women conference in Dallas on May 3-4.

Keynoters included former First Lady Laura Bush, Boston College’s Alicia Munnell and Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary (see this month’s Big Picture column for his comments). They were joined by more than 50 advisors who spoke on issues ranging from disrupting the status quo,
investing, succession planning, the DOL rule and it’s affect on the advisory business, health care, practice management and many others.

During her presentation, Bush encouraged women advisors to get involved with efforts to help women in emerging countries overcome outdated social mores that are holding back progress.

Bush said she and her husband, George, are spending a lot of their time with the Bush Presidential Center and the related Bush Institute in their new hometown of Dallas, working on programs to promote global democracy and freedom.

Mrs. Bush chairs the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, which helps women in Afghanistan, Egypt and Tunisia through mentorship and other programs.

“We’re trying to help them build the institutions to support democracy,” she said. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she noted, her focus changed in her role as First Lady. “I was no longer just speaking out about literacy,” Mrs. Bush said. “I was giving a radio address denouncing the brutal treatment of women and children by the Taliban. I was no longer just organizing book festivals, I was visiting with a class of courageous women and police officers” in Afghanistan.

Closer to home, Mrs. Bush said women also have challenges. “In a lot of ways, we still defer to men. I think that’s social … especially the way women in the South were raised. That’s just what you did. … All of us need to be conscious of it.”

Lack of equal pay is another example. “That’s certainly still happening, and we all need to just speak about it constantly.”

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said in her presentation that about half of U.S. households will be at risk in retirement—a “pretty dismal outlook”—but a problem that can be solved without major revamps in existing programs.

Women are particularly at risk in retirement, with lower wages, lower Social Security benefits and longer life spans, Munnell said.