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Career and Mentoring: IBPW's annual conference

Indian Business and Professional Women (IBPW), a non-profit support network that promotes education, leadership and self-development through seminars and workshops, held its annual career and mentoring conference on Sunday September 9. This year’s theme was “Life Hacking: Career, Health, and Spirit-- a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing a day-to-day task or activity.”

The conference was introduced by executive directors Shubhangi Vaidya and Deepka Lalwani (R).

Lalwani sprinkled her introduction with several inspiring quotes as she touched upon themes important and relevant to women: American activist Marian Wright Edelman’s “You cannot be what you cannot see”. She quoted Jayashree Ullal (CEO, Arista Networks) as telling her “Even if you’re not interested in politics, you have to know what’s going on.” Lalwani mentioned the gender gap in pay: $.87 to a woman for every dollar to a man. She paraphrased Helen Keller to emphasize “The world is not improved by one large push, but many small pushes.”

Before the conference got under way, Seema Sahni, an early board member and supporter of IBPW who passed away recently, was remembered with fondness and gratitude.

Conference Chair Alka Jarvis, Distinguished Quality Engineer at Cisco Systems, introduced the four keynote speakers.

Alka Jarvis

Anu Gulati, Anjali Gulati, Noor Sachdev, Michele Dauber

Anu Shukla, serial entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of RewardsPay Inc. spoke first. She was energetic, lively and engaging. Founder of five companies to date, she shared her thoughts on the successes and failures, emphasizing the importance of the product-market fit. On being an entrepreneur, the positive is that you always have a job and you create options for yourself. The negative is that you’re working all the time, and that there are some politics. If the company is not successful, there’s a lot of scrutiny. What are the qualities of an entrepreneur? There will be setbacks every day, but keep persisting, Shukla urged the audience. Luck is also an important factor, but luck favors the prepared.

Anjali Gulati, MD, Cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital spoke about cardiovascular disease, risks and ways to modify them. While there is a great deal of awareness about breast cancer, cardiovascular disease causes many more deaths. The risk of coronary artery disease CAD is shifting in age from 65 to the 50s. Younger and younger people are at higher risk. In terms of awareness, there was a gender-based disparity. Classical symptoms for men are not what manifest in women. She informed the audience about common risk factors which are either modifiable (diabetes, blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol) or non-modifiable e.g. age and family.

Diabetes puts men at two times greater risk of stroke, and whereas women are at 4 1/2 times greater risk. She quoted from the Nurses Health Study and urged the audience not to be couch potatoes. She encouraged a heart healthy diet, and strongly advocated against smoking. Stress reduction is important for good health: high stress contracts arteries, and causes heart attack, even for those without coronary artery disease. The reduction of stress causes vasodilation. She spoke of the principles of prevention: know the risk factors, know the symptoms of coronary artery disease, and modify risks. Noor Sachdev, MD, Neurologist and Vice Chairman of the Neurosciences Dept at Good Samaritan Hospital educated the audience about stroke, which is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in women. The cost of stroke is $40 billion, which includes the cost of health care services, medication, and missed days of work. Risk factors include smoking, blood pressure, diabetes, birth control pills, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy. I was surprised to learn that migraines increase risk 2 1/2 times. Stroke symptoms can be sudden, and similar to what Gulati said about heart disease, Sachdev pointed out that classical symptoms of stroke are not seen in women. Treatment of stroke is a challenge. In 1995 tissue plasminogen activator or TPA made by Genentech was approved by FDA. This is the only drug in 20 years that has worked. The patient has to be treated within three hours and is ideally treated within 90 minutes. He described a Mobile Stroke Unit, mobile technology for stroke which is available in several major cities, but surprisingly not yet in Silicon Valley. Another technology, the Stent Retriever, can remove large clots which TPA does not.

Michele Dauber, Professor of Law at Stanford University who spearheaded the successful effort to recall California Judge Aaron Persky spoke next. Her topic was sexual harassment and its devastating effect on women. She set out to first describe the problem, presented empirical evidence on sexual harassment, solutions that have NOT worked, and then solutions that have not been tried yet. That solution, she stated is democracy. Sexual harassment is common: 1/3 of all people have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace 50% of women and 15% of men. It is more common in younger women. And for immigrant women, women of color, this is even more true. She referred to an article from The Economist which laid out how sexual harassment affect certain sections of the population more, people who work in isolation, e.g. janitorial staff.

Women supervisors can be threatening to men, as in the military. Dauber said she has observed that the more elite the school, the greater the sexual harassment. 70% of female students experience sexual harassment, and 43% experience sexual violence. Tying her talk to those of the physicians who went before her, she said that sexual harassment is detrimental to women’s health. When women are trapped and can’t get out, the toxic stress affects health.

On strategies against sexual harassment that have not worked, Dauber mentioned sexual-harassment training, saying there was no evidence that it actually works. On lawsuits, she said that women who sue always regret it. About a year after the powerful MeToo movement started, Dauber said that MeToo is not discussed enough on corporate boards.

A strategy that has not been tried and what Dauber advocates is voting on the issue. The system is set up to ignore a complainant, but what you cannot ignore is voting a perpetrator out. A powerful message is that when women vote on sexual violence, we will vote you out. Dauber gave the example of the movement she led to recall judge Aaron Persky. She said women of color and millennial women stood up and said enough is enough. She has established in nonprofit called Enough is Enough, focusing on those running for office. She gave a few examples of the type of person to be targeted.

Dauber felt this issue will only become more important in 2020.

After the keynote speeches, panelists leading round table discussions introduced themselves.

Dilip Saraf has been a career coach for 18 years with more than 6000 clients, many of whom are women.

Dilip Saraf

Saraf offered three life hacks.

  • Build a relationship with your Mentor. Interactions with a mentor should not be transactional e.g. you lost a job and reach out to get help with a new job.

  • Shift your Mindset. he gave an example of how people respond differently to the same situation. A woman may personalize and ask what is wrong with me? Another person may take it personally and say what do I need to do to get the job, what am I doing wrong? Not what is wrong with me. A woman might looks at a job description and qualifies 100%. She is more apt to say that Joe is more qualified even though Joe only has 60% of the qualifications.

  • Learn how to tell your own story. Saraf’s own story is that he started his fifth career during the dotcom bust. He started out by saying “I do career coaching.” It took him two years to say “I am a career coach.” And another five years to say “I am a great career coach,” which transformed his practice. Use uplifting language in stories you tell yourself and you will break through.

Raji Nagarkar, product counsel at LinkedIn, spoke of the value mentors brought to her life. She obtained a law degree in India and then moved to the US. One of her professors joined the Obama administration. Her mentor suggested that she drop a congratulatory note and say she would like to stay in touch. She found this very useful.

Raji Nagarkar

Preeti Suri

Preeti Suri has been a Subway franchise owner for 18 years. She owns 4 in Fremont. Previously she was a computer professional in sales and marketing. She appreciates the opportunity to connect with the community. The best part is the relationships are built and the personal support system. For Mentoring, she advised, be authentic. It is helpful to others if you share not just your successes, but also your failures.

Alzak Amlani has has been in practice for 20 years as a consulting psychologist. His areas include relationships, depression, lifestyle and career changes – he covers the whole spectrum. He is an Associate Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) which was founded by a follower of Sri Aurobindo. Men and women are seeking therapy not only for mental illness but to lead more rounded lives. In this age of YouTube, there is greater value on face-to-face contact. He works to restore relatedness, and wants to focus on how psychotherapy can be useful to members of the audience, as physical health issues have psychological components.

Alzak Amlani

Kalpana Shyam

Kalpana Shyam is a Sr. Software Engineeer at IBM Silicon Valley labs, and has worked at IBM for 38 years. She had several tips.

  • She provided ideas to “claiming your technical spotlight”, and get credit for your ideas. One of the ways of doing this is to have your idea on paper. Pass it out after people say they like it.

  • There’s no substitute for hard work. Do the detailed hard work, work out the details, take the time to do so.

  • You cannot do big things alone, you have to have a team. You need the vision and ability to mobilize the team.

  • Mentoring: select a mentor you can have a real relationship with, who can give you ideas and opportunities, who will go to bat for you, introduce you to other people.

After the formal presentations concluded, the conference switched to interactive sessions in round table format, where each panelist led a table, accompanied by a facilitator. I served as facilitator to Dr. Amlani, whom I had met and heard at a previous event, a panel discussion on mental illness.

One attendee asked for tips for what to do to cope with anxiety attacks, how to calm down, clarifying that a bad relationship was contributing to the anxiety attacks. Amlani suggested a few ways:

  • Minimize relationships that are anxiety inducing

  • Get support, so you feel stronger, less vulnerable

  • Calming techniques:

– Simple breathing, in five seconds, then out

– Exercise, especially cardiovascular

– Being in nature

– Calling a friend

– Keep blood sugar stable

– Not drinking too much alcohol or consuming too much caffeine.

Another participant used journaling as a technique to reduce anxiety levels, writing down the days activities as well as goals. She asked for tips on how to follow up on goals. Amlani commented on the dual purposes of journaling in her case: to vent, as well as to set goals. The first helps you understand yourself and the second relieves stress. For follow up, he suggested writing goals on a 3 x 5 card where you can see it. Some people record them and listen to the recording. Some people turn them into pictures. For example, of foods that you want to eat. On a comment regarding the lack of discussion about mental health issues in a family setting, Amlani suggested that at family gatherings, check in and ask people to comment on one thing that is great and another that is not great in their lives, to draw people out and have more meaningful conversations. One participant asked for help to reduce feelings of sensitivity towards other people’s words and actions, commenting that her response was not practical. She felt hurt, and starts crying and stops talking to that person. In response, Dr. Amlani said that some people are very affected by other people’s opinions. First build esteem, second ask if something happened in my past where important people did not support me. If so, there is some healing to be done. On self-care tips for persons working with domestic violence survivors or providing other forms of care, Amlani suggested “Put on your oxygen mask first”, as on planes. Make sure to get sleep, food, be outside, do stretching, yoga. Even 5 to 10 minutes makes a difference, if it is something pleasurable and meaningful. What Amlani himself does is get support from a meditation teacher, goes on retreats. At the end of the day, he suggested an energy brush, as done by body wok practitioners, as even if you are listening, words have energy. At a table shared with Kalpana Shyam, the topic if dealing with competition among peers, peer pressure was discussed. Shyam responded that she learned to do with less. Found happiness with it. Amlani said we should start with ourselves and ask– what do I really value? Can I take a break? What is the price of success? Another attendee commented that for 24 years she worked 13 1/2 hours a day. How do you give it up? What do you suggest? Amlani responded that the culture we live in here is very skewed. There are high levels of depression, suicide, drug use. People seem very driven. Part of the drive comes out of inner emptiness. He talked of setting boundaries. Even if you tell yourself that all the time spent is out of passion, he suggested checking in with yourself and ask how is my health? What am I missing?

A tasty lunch was served at the beginning of the conference. A large container of excellent tea was available throughout, leading me to have more tea that I typically do. The caffeine kept me up later than usual, and I reflected on many of the topics discussed at this informative and inspiring conference.

Photos credit: Nasir Lalani

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