NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Running for top office is important for women, but winning an election makes a difference for which there's no substitute, said Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.
"I think running is part of the success," said Blair, the wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. "And as Hillary Clinton said when she didn't get the Democratic nomination in 2008, there were still 18 million cracks in that glass ceiling, but obviously success makes a great difference."
A woman president provides a tangible example for girls of the kind of power they can achieve, Blair said.
Women have shown they can operate at "every level," she added said.
Women have become heads of state in countries such as Liberia and Germany.
Still, the number of women CEOs at major corporations trails the number of men, and women are under-represented on corporate boards. As of mid-February, fewer than 5% of companies in the S&P 500 were run by women. Women's share of board seats at U.S. stock index companies was 19.2% as of October 2014, according to data from Catalyst.
The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report shows that there is no country in the world where women have achieved total equality with men, Blair said.
Although Scandinavian countries are doing better, others are doing "appallingly badly," she added.
Overall, women are getting 90% access to education and health to the 100% that men receive, according to the World Economy Forum report, Blair said.
In relation to women's economic equality with men, the percentage is about 60%, she said. Political power is somewhere in the mid 20% range, with roughly two women parliamentarians for every 10 men, she added.
"That is not equal opportunity when women make up 50% of the world," Blair said.
Social and cultural forces are partly responsible, Blair said. As an example, she pointed to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's comments at a debate at this week's Milken conference. Paulson, she noted, said that there are some jobs that may not be suitable for mothers because they may need to work 12-hour days or take a call at 11 p.m.
"I think it's not a question of women changing to meet the jobs," Blair said. "It's actually a question of changing the job requirements to meet the needs of parents -- of men and women as people who need to be more than just wage slaves ... We need to do more to devise work-life balance which actually fits with the reality of the world today."
She also said, "We also need to get out of this mindset that ... because a woman may have left the workforce or taken her foot off the accelerator pedal while she had young children at home that that means -- that short period in a career span of 40 years -- that that means she is forever condemned only to be second best. I totally refute that."
Blair called for leadership and creative ideas to engage with the talents of those who make up 50% of our population, which she said would lead to better returns for our economy.
The needs of fathers should also be met, she added, saying that her own sons want to participate as equal partners in raising families. It can be accomplished by leveling the playing field in employment, education and political life.
She said she's hopeful that women will achieve equal pay in her lifetime, and noted that the U.K. wage gap is about 16%, which is better than in the U.S.