“Woman is a powerful force that can move everything” Chandrika Tandon tells at AAPI’s Women’s Forum

Panelists at the Women’s Forum
Panelists at the Women’s Forum

New York, NY: July 3rd, 2016: As women, you burn yourselves in the process of accomplishing things in life, Chandrika Tandon, a 2011 GRAMMY nominated artist and a Billboard Nominee for top 40 Women in Music 2011, told a packed audience at the Women’s Forum during the 34th annual Convention of 34th annual convention of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, New York City on July 2nd, 2016.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Seema Jain, adhered to the 4 Es, she had presented as the major themes on her inaugural day a year ago, Excellence of Education, Enlightenment, Evolution, and Empowerment of women, stated that “There is a need for empowerment of women, which means women should be respected at work and at corporate and Boardroom table. One would treat them with respect just as you would treat your mom, wife, sister, and daughter.”

Chandrika Tandon addressing the audience
Chandrika Tandon addressing the audience

Stating that she is the 3rd woman president in the 34 year-old long history of AAPI, Dr. Jain said, “In spite of the many challenges, we have been able to achieve great things.” Reminding the audience about the tradition of woman being considered a goddess in the Indian tradition, she said, “You go to the temple to pray to the goddess, and that devotion to women must be translated into real life.”

Dr. Rita Ahuja, Chairwoman of the convention said, “For the very first time in the history of AAPI, both the President and the Convention Chair are women. We are so fortunate to have Dr. Seema Jain as the President of AAPI.”

Tandon, who was the keynote speaker at the Women’s Forum, is Chairman of her financial advisory firm, Tandon Capital Associates, Inc. She has worked with more than 40 financial and service institutions all over the world and has spearheaded projects that involved major financial and operational restructuring, global and domestic strategy, and broad-based culture change. Prior to that, she was a partner at McKinsey and Company.

Being a wife, mother, businesswoman, artiste, each role she plays is so demanding. But, Tandon said, she was able to all of them. “I made major tradeoffs. Life as founder-chairman of my company was brutal: Restructuring an Australian company, I’d fly 32 hours to Brisbane, stay nine days, talk to my nine-year-old via nightly video-conference, micro-arranging her schedule. Returning home, I’d talk to my Brisbane team and work non-stop negotiating other clients. I wasn’t the emotionally available mother I wanted to be. Flying 32 hours every nine days took a toll. Then, I was offered a multimillion-dollar deal, spending four days a week in Europe. I considered it, crying non-stop. I had done mega jobs, working with billionaires, flying on private planes. It was emotionally and intellectually heady. Professionally and personally, it was catastrophic. Suddenly, I had no identity: a top businesswoman, unsure I even had a business. I went into myself, came to a new way of seeing “success” as freedom to do what I wanted. I got into spirituality, searched for answers, for purpose. My life had been other-directed. I re-examined my values: What’s important?”

Organizers and AAPI leaders at the Women’s Forum, during AAPI’s 34th convention in New York
Organizers and AAPI leaders at the Women’s Forum, during AAPI’s 34th convention in New York

Kim Guadagno, Lt. Governor of New Jersey, a panelists on the Women’s Forum stressed the need for women to be more educated than men. She drew the attention of the audience to a New York Times story stating that there are there are more Johns in higher positions in healthcare than all women put together. When asked about the need for legislation, she said, “There are enough policies but, all of us need to implement those policies to avoid discrimination.” She underscored the need “knowing your rights and use them always in the right way is so important.” While stating that “It’s a challenge to play multiple roles,” she shared with the audience about her own personal life when she stayed home for eight years to take care of her three children, she said, ”I gave up my job to care for the family needs.” But it worked well.” According to her, “The biggest challenge is to keep fighting. Women need to support each other and applaud each other’s victory. If you are not doing it no one is going to do it for yourself,” she told the audience.

Dr. Sherine Gabriel, Dean  of Rutgers RWJM School & CEO Rutgers RWJM Group, another panelist said, “We have come a long way. There are about 50 percent women in med schools, but the irony is that the board rooms do not have enough women. We have a long way to go on that end.” Her tips for women to succeed and be independent and be able to take charge, are: Be authentic; Be passionate; Be prepared to walk an extra mile; and, Be unstoppable in spite of hurdles. “You know where you want to go and never give up. Choose your partner wisely, who is wlling to share responsibilities with you and someone who can always willing to step up to the occasion.” Stressing the need for compromise, she said, “I strongly believe in promoting equality. You are the role models for all of us here. Keep fighting and  support one another.”

Aroon Shivdasani, President of Indo-American Arts Council, shared with the audience her own personal experiences of being called by people as “Fakir of New York City,” who always for the sake of art, and for the sake of the not -for-profit organizations, appeal for financial support. “I lead a not-for-profit and being a woman I am not taken seriously because I am always begging. When you lead a nonprofit, you get to lead and touch so many lives. A lot of people who come out and do these noble endeavors, they do this out of need. It’s not a hobby,” she said.

When asked about the need to choose one’s partner wisely, she said, “Being an Indian woman is so different.” She recommended that  “Be sure of what you want to be and be passionate about what you want to achieve. Believe in yourself and go ahead and do it.” She admitted that “women have the corner on guilt. We do it to ourselves. We all need to have a sense of humor, especially when you have so many roles to play in life and each one is so demanding.”

Standing ovation for the women speakers during Women’s Forum
Standing ovation for the women speakers during Women’s Forum

Dr. Rachana Kulkarni, Co-Chair of Women’s Forum, who moderated the panel discussion pointed out how women are being judged differently than men in almost every aspect of life. “People’s expectations are weaved into the culture. There is an unconscious gender bias. And I tell my son, not to dependent on women in life.”

Sunanad Gaur, Co-Chair of Women’s Forum, in her opening remarks, stated that there are as many as 70% of the healthcare jobs are held by women, but only a handful of jobs in Board “there is an unconscious structural bias. There is a need for looking within and identify ways to move forward in order to be agents of change from within.

Dr. Udaya Shivangi, Co-Chair of Women’s Forum, stressed the need for enhancing professional growth without compromising one’s family, values and interests in life. She shared with the audience how how her mother inspired her to dream and work towards realizing her dreams.

Sharing with the audience about her own life story, which has been an inspiration to millions, Tandon said, “We lived with my grandfather who read to us every night — Shakespeare, English poetry. He made you feel you can be anything you want. It was inconceivable that I’d apply to IIM, or get in. What I got from my grandfather was inner unstoppability. Many people are smarter, more talented. I have inner strength.”

It had been a struggle at every stage of her life. “I fought to go to college, went on a hunger strike for business school until my mother agreed to let me go. A I’d followed my career mindlessly — among the youngest in my IIM class, accepted into Citibank (which took three out of 116 applicants), then McKinsey’s, and my own business. I never stopped. But I wasn’t focused on the lack, I focused on the possibility.”

Organizers and AAPI leaders at the Women’s Forum, during AAPI’s 34th convention in New York
Organizers and AAPI leaders at the Women’s Forum, during AAPI’s 34th convention in New York

After much soul searching, she said, “My happiest times were around music.” Despite dizzy business success, Chandrika Tandon’s first love remains music, a passion which came from her mother. She remembers that he mother would switch on the radio at 5 am in the morning.
In the US, to learn music from a master she would leave home at 4 in the morning for a two hour session between 6 to 8 am. She wanted to be home by the time her daughter woke up. Then she started travelling with her music teachers and would squeeze in lessons between business meetings. She was nominated for GRAMMY for her album. Her philanthropy has been inspirational. “support education, wellness and arts. It’s about making life full and enriching in one’s days here. I’m happy I turned away from the work. I’m blessed to have the freedom to choose how I want to spend my days.

Tandon suggested that everyone needs to have the courage that comes from competence; the courage that comes from compassion; and, the courage that comes from contemplation.” Indian women give up anything for others, she said. “Compassion and karma are tied together. We cannot change others. If you cannot take yourself seriously how can others take you seriously?” she asked the delegates. She told the women in attendance, “We are technically brilliant. But our soft skills are terrible,” noting that “our emotional intelligence is the real problem.” She said, “Woman is a powerful force that can move everything. One must believe that I am the power. I am the light.”

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