“Women share best practices for home office balance during pandemic at ATEA Conference”

Prakash Narayan –

To commemorate International Women’s Day, the American Tamil Entrepreneurs Association (ATEATM), a non-profit organization that fosters entrepreneurship in USA, conducted its annual Women’s Day conference on Saturday, March 27.

The conference theme was “Empower, Celebrate and Support” was hosted by ATEA’s Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter.

Emceed by Hema Velankanni, the half-day conference featured women from different professions who shared their journey; highlighted how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women of color with job losses; how they challenge themselves to stay focused and maintain balance both at home and work. Some of the speakers had 2500 employees reporting to them, some of the women were in politics and others were aspiring to be in politics.

The conference had three main opening keynotes, Valerie Arkoosh, Chairwoman, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; Maria Collett, Pennsylvania State Senator, and Pramila Srinivasan, CEO ChARM Health.

Speaking to moderator Nivedha Kanwar, Dr. Arkoosh, a physician by profession, community leader, and health policy expert is the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners where she manages a budget of over $450m and directs over 2500 employees shared about how women-owned businesses are the cornerstone of the local and national economies.

She shared that:

  • 40% of US businesses are women-owned
  • In the last year, 64% of new women-owned businesses were started by women of color
  • The number of women entrepreneurs today are 114% more than there were 20 years ago
  • Companies founded by women outperformed companies founded by men by 63% (in First Round Capital’s portfolio)

The Coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected women of color with job losses and other economic impacts. Female workforce participation has dropped to 57% (the lowest level since 1988).

The Montgo Strong Grants program offers $26m in Grants to small businesses and non-profits for COVID-19 relief since April 2020. At least 30% of these grants have gone to minority and/or women-owned businesses.

Pennsylvania State Senator Collett, speaking to moderator Patricia Raj, shared how her career as an attorney represented the interests of children victimized by abuse and neglect, and how she transitioned to a career in nursing. She is the first Greek American woman to serve in the Pennsylvania State Senate. She talked about the value and impact that education can have in life. She witnessed first-hand the challenges that our States and court systems faced when trying to protect children and families. The result was children being torn away from the only family they knew into institutional care or foster care that did not necessarily serve them better. Her calling was more closely aligned with the helping professions of social work, mental health advocacy and nursing. As a Senator, she is able to advocate for people to ensure that they received the best services possible by intervening on their behalf with State agencies as well as by introducing legislation to improve policies.

The Pennsylvania State Senate has 14 women, and the State House has 59 women. In addition, there are 4 women from Pennsylvania in the US House of Representatives. She is urging to invest in Child Care and Senior Care the same way that we invest in infrastructure. This would allow the women who have taken these responsibilities at home to return to the workforce. Research has shown that women legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women. On average a woman legislator passed twice as many bills as a male legislator.

Dr. Pramila Srinivasan was the third keynote speaker – moderated by Brigit Joseph. She shared how after her graduate degree from Purdue (in ECE), she launched a free, cloud-based platform for patients and caregivers to manage their chronic health conditions. The platform focuses on Electronic Health Records, Patient engagement and practice management. It is used by independent clinics worldwide. In 2019, she founded the (non-profit) Brain Foundation – to catalyze and raise funds for research in neuro-developmental disorders. It funds about $1m each year to find treatments to help those with seizures, autism, ID, etc.

Dr. Srinivasan’s talk was focused on 10 lessons (particularly for women) she learned as an entrepreneur.

  1. Take it one year at a time – since things change dynamically
  2. A rigorous education helps – doors get opened with your credentials
  3. Depth-first approach to competence – take a topic that you are passionate about and become an expert in that area
  4. Gap years (to raise children) is okay. During this time, take courses online, work on independent projects, work for a non-profit
  5. Cultivate Financial Intelligence at every level – home, workplace and as an entrepreneur
  6. Bootstrap vs Raise Funds. Important to attend pitch events and hone presentation skills
  7. Win your first sales yourself – even if it means carrying a booth all by yourself
  8. Give back to your community
  9. Be a doer. As Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something done, ask a woman”. While the statistics (of women participating at the CXO level) look grim, we stand on the shoulders of amazing women
  10. All major efforts start with a small step. We can make a difference.

This was followed by a panel on “Celebrating Women” – moderated by Priya Karthik, a certified professional coach. The focus of this panel was that women are the true architects of society. As Michelle Obama mentioned, “There is no limit to what women can accomplish”. Priya Karthik led the discussion with highly accomplished women, asking each of them to talk about their respective journeys.

The next panel was on Challenging and Empowering women – that is, women who challenged themselves, successfully balanced their life and work and even given back to the community. This panel was moderated by Uma Haynes and the panelists were all stalwarts in their respective areas. One of the panelists, Dr. Anusha Ravi is a candidate for the legislative elections (in the Tiruppur South constituency) in Tamil Nadu (on April 6th). She asked the audience to find their SWG (Strong Woman Gene). Linda Casotti urged the listeners to be unapologetically ambitious. Barbara Salami asked people to be relentless and selfish in pursuing their goals. Overall, it was excellent advice provided by highly accomplished women.

The final panel was on investment opportunities. The theme for the panel was when women support each other, incredible things happen. The panelists shared the tips, tricks and techniques that they used to successfully find investors for their respective businesses. The panel was moderated by Malini Das, an entrepreneur herself.

Janani Ramachandran, an attorney who is running for California State Assembly concluded the conference with her speech, making her the third politician who spoke at the event! (after Maria Collett and Dr. Anusha Ravi). If elected, Janani would become California’s first Indian American Assemblywoman. The only other Indian American woman in the California State Government is Vice President Kamala Harris.