Indian American women in Chicago network at annual IACS conference


The Indo American Community Services hosted the Annual South Asian Women’s conference at the Naperville Marriott on April 9. The conference, ‘Breaking Barriers – Today’s Women Leaders’, provided an interactive forum to educate and empower women and provide them with networking opportunities to connect, learn and grow in their careers, an IACS press release said.

Suja Chandrasekharan, CIO, Kimberly Clark; Lei Zhang Schlitz, executive vice president, ITW; and Maryam Saleh, vice president, Programs, Matter were the keynote speakers. They shared many aspects of leadership including the challenges they faced along with their personal experiences and practical advice to help professional women achieve their goals.

The conference began with a welcome note by IACS Executive team member Lakshmi Nagamohan. Chaya Setty, one of the conference organizing team members, introduced the keynote speakers.

Chandrasekharan emphasized on “learning agility where you learn, unlearn and relearn all the time” as this is very crucial to achieve success. “Successful people are reading all the time apart from building a network with others who are specialists in their field,” she said. She also encouraged the participants to interact with people as this is a key part of leadership. Having grown up in India, Chandrasekharan has lived in many countries before moving to the United States. And this, she says, is what prompted her to put a concerted effort to develop and build strong networks for herself which immensely helped in her career growth. Chandrasekharan has more than 25 years of experience in technology and leadership roles in both the consumer packaged goods and retail industries. Her awards includes Top 10 Women in Tech, Top 10 Leader of Digital and Technology, ICONIC Leader for Women in Technology.

In her talk, Zhang Schlitz mentioned about paying attention to the highest and lowest points in one’s career. “Building a career is like a marathon and is not a sprint,” she reminded the audience. Having grown up in China, she said she faced language and cultural challenges but rose to the occasion to improve her communication skills and personality development. Zhang Schlitz also advised participants to be open to constructive criticism and use it to improve themselves. Zhang Schlitz was elected as the Executive Vice President of ITW in September 2015. She oversees the entire $2.2 billion global portfolio of the ITW food equipment segment business, the press release said.

Saleh talked about the role of entrepreneurs in healthcare and encouraged the participants to continue their efforts and pursue their dreams, no matter what hurdles they face. Born in the UK, Salehis an immigrant from Iran who lived in Canada before moving to the United States. She talked about how important it is to make an effort to fit in. This improves your chances of success, whether it is the workplace or your personal lives, she said. Saleh was also featured in Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40 list in 2016.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A session moderated by Sunita Rachapalli and Radha Balwani in which panelists addressed questions from participants. Some of the questions were focused on handling work life balance, mentoring, entrepreneurship, and personality development.

The conference also featured local women entrepreneurs – Shalini Patel, founder of Inspire Girls Academy and Rita Chevli, founder of Shuban Designs. Patel’s work revolves around breaking down traditional gender roles and inspiring girls to believe that they can achieve or become anything they desire. The curriculum and learning at Inspire Girls Academy focusses on STEM education, with emphasis on supporting them to build the skills and habits of mind that are developmentally appropriate.

Chevli is a local Chicago artist who began her career in arts by earning a degree in Fine Arts in India. Her time spent living in Japan, China and America has influenced her jewelry design today. She started working in silver in 2004, but since then has branched out by incorporating different metals in her jewelry.



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