In a rare appearance at an event that was not about food, New York’s de facto first lady, Sandra Lee, on Monday offered a glimpse into the household she shares with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and gave young women some blunt career advice.
Appearing on a panel about women’s economic empowerment organized by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand and held at New York University, Ms. Lee remarked that, just as women have more job opportunities today, men are expected to do more at home — including raising children, cooking dinner “and doing dishes — if you’re in my house.”
As the audience giggled at the image of a governor up to his elbows in soap suds, and another panelist asked, “Really?” Ms. Lee nodded in response. “And using the slow cooker,” she said. “It’s the new favorite thing, because it’s only one” dish to wash.
Ms. Lee, an on-screen chef who has built a media empire around her concept of “semi-homemade” cooking — that is, preparing packaged foods with a twist that makes them feel homemade — has not played the part of a typical first lady, generally avoiding political events and preferring to keep her public persona separate and distinct from Mr. Cuomo’s.
But there are signs that she is becoming more comfortable talking about her unusual status as a celebrity in her own right and also as the girlfriend of the governor. In an interview in the current issue of Harper’s Bazaar, she discusses her relationships with Mr. Cuomo and his daughters, and deftly fields a question about whether he might run for president. (“I haven’t even thought about anything like that,” she said.)
On Monday’s panel, Ms. Lee played the part of a big sister or highly successful aunt to the young women in the room, offering not her usual cooking tips but rather counsel about navigating the business world. Ms. Lee’s perspective was in contrast to the other women on the panel — Senator Gillibrand; the personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich; and the environmental advocate Majora Carter. Ms. Lee grew up poor and did not graduate from college, but now runs a multimillion-dollar business; she seemed to have little interest in talk of “glass ceilings” or of women being disadvantaged.
This “needs to not be about being put down or at a disadvantage, because you’re not,” she told the audience. “The women are at an advantage — we represent the buying power in this country.”
Arguing that female entrepreneurs were in a better position to create products for women, she said: “We can market to her; we can support her; we can insulate her.”
Her advice was generally no-nonsense. After Ms. Gillibrand observed that only 7 percent of women negotiate for their first salary, compared with 57 percent of men, the moderator, the “Today” television host Savannah Guthrie, asked the panelists how each would advise women to be more assertive.
Ms. Ulrich, the finance expert, suggested that they should simply say, “I want more.”
Ms. Lee seemed a bit skeptical of this approach.
“It’s really important to be educated, to know what the market value is, and to ask for it,” she said. But, she added: “I think that you can’t be so aggressive and so assertive and so adamant about getting it. You’re going to have to give somewhere, a little — men do, too.”
She said that unlike many people in television, she negotiated all her own deals, and she counseled women: “Don’t underestimate the power of you picking up the phone yourself.”
Ms. Lee predicted that now that women had so many opportunities they would quickly rise to the top of professions.
“But you have to want it,” she said. “You have to have the eye of the tiger, and you have to do it every single day.”
The only world in which she acknowledged encountering sexism was that of high cuisine.
Saying at one point that she had never felt there was a “glass ceiling,” she paused and then added, with a grin, “Though if you’ve attended the Cordon Bleu, you would know that no woman is supposed to be a chef — only men.”
At the same conference on Monday, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, was interviewed by Diana Williams, the WABC-TV news anchor.
Ms. Williams asked Ms. Jarrett what it was like to be a woman in the Obama White House — an issue that has gotten some attention lately, with the publication of Ron Suskind’s book about the Obama administration, “Confidence Men.” The book includes quotations from two former officials describing the atmosphere as hostile to women.
“Oh, it’s terrific,” Ms. Jarrett said, without missing a beat.
She said Mr. Obama, having watched his mother, grandmother and even his wife struggle with gender barriers, “comes to this job with an acute awareness of how hard it is for women, and he values their perspective.” And “he has been extraordinary, really,” she added, “if you compare him to any other president, he has gone off the charts, in terms of having women at the highest levels both within the White House as well as within his cabinet.”