Erma Bombeck was a homemaker in suburbia during the 1960s.

"I've burped Tupperware. I've crocheted little Mexican serapes for my tabasco sauce," the humor columnist announced during her keynote address at the sixth annual Utah Women's Conference, held Friday at the Symphony Hall."I've seen action in the women's revolution," she said. That revolution won women many rights, including the right to "enter men's locker rooms to hear some jock named Bubba say, `I came here to play ball.'

"For this we shave our legs?" Bombeck asked, drawing the laughter of more 2,500 women attending the conference, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

This year's theme was "Discovering the Diversity and Unity of Women."

Bombeck's one-liners Friday morning united women gathered in Symphony Hall. Throughout the rest of the day, women explored their diverse interests in various Salt Palace conference rooms.

Debra Bowland, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Labor, talked about work trends for women. In 10 years, she said, there will be a shortage of labor and everyone who is trained and wants to work will have a job. The best jobs will go to skilled laborers and those proficient in math and science.

Meanwhile, she said, the disparity between men's and women's salaries is shrinking. "Now women in the 17 to 34 age group are making 85 percent of what men are making.

"I'm not saying it's changing fast enough, but it is changing."

In a foreign policy forum, Rosemary Niehuss, senior associate with Kissinger Associates, discussed the implications of technology and psychological warfare in the current crisis in the Persian Gulf. If war does come, she said, the world will watch the carnage on television. "Then the Iraqis will have the psychological better of us because Americans are tenderhearted" and will want to withdraw from the conflict, she said.

Two Salt Lake psychiatrists highlighted advances in the treatment of mental disorders, including the advent of drugs effective in the treatment of everything from obsessive compulsive disorders to hyperactivity to depression - an illness that effects one in five women and one in 10 men.

In past ages, the greatest tragedy in psychiatry was that there was no effective treatment, said Dr. Daniel D. Christensen, medical director at The Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry. "Today, the greatest tragedy is that less than 20 percent of people with treatable problems don't receive any help."

In yet another seminar, U.S. Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R.-Conn., outlined several pressing issues Congress will be addressing. High on the agenda will be access to health care, she said.

"The number of children in America who still don't have access to even well-baby care or normal preventive care is extraordinary. The amount of poverty among children is higher than among any other population group," she said.

Another priority will be "the crisis in the national foster-care system."

Johnson, like Bombeck, urged women to get back into volunteering - "back to helping fill what is a desperate and critical need among children in America. That is the `Big Brother, Big Sister need,' - the need for a knowledgeable, compassionate adult in their lives.

Bombeck agreed. As diverse as women are, they are alike in some ways, she said. Women all want healthy children, someone to share their love with, meaningful work and respect for that work, and "a sense of humor to survive it all," she said.