Asian American Women’s Symposium: Bamboo or Glass Ceilings? The Challenges and Opportunities Asian Women Entrepreneurs Face

The Asian American Chamber of Commerce (AACCP) Pittsburgh Chapter hosted the Asian American Women’s Symposium: Bamboo of Glass Ceilings? The Challenges and Opportunities Asian Women Entrepreneurs Face on May 2nd, 2015 from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM in the Mellon Board Room at Chatham University. Chatham University Business Programs, the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, and TiE were partners for this important event.

The Speakers, Panelists, and Facilitators included: Dr. Kanak Iyer, President and CEO, Kanakadhara Financial, Registered Investment Advisors; Dr. Rachel Chung, Director of Business Programs at Chatham University; Rebecca U. Harris, Director of Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University; Keynote Speaker, Debra Lam, Chief Innovation and Performance Officer, City of Pittsburgh; Dr. Priya NarasimhanCarnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor and Founder of YinzCam Inc.;
Cassandra Pan, President of Fenner-Dunlop AmericasJay Srini, Chief Strategist at SCS Ventures; Nicki Zevola, Founder and CEO of FutureDermGanesh Mani, President of the Global Innovation Center, Inc.Bobby Zappala, President and CEO of Thrill Mill, Co-Founder of Thrival Innocation + Music Festival.

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From left: Jay Srini, Dr. Priya Narasimhan, Nicki Zevola, Rebecca U. Harris.

After a brief networking session and introductions, the event began with Cassandra Pan speaking about the effect her traditional Chinese upbringing had on her career path. She described her childhood and early adulthood as the periods where she followed the exact path her parents and society deemed appropriate, yet she wanted to start her own business and push away from the conventional role she was expected to continue. Following Ms. Pan’s presentation, Rebecca Harris facilitated a Panel Discussion focused on the proverbial Bamboo and Glass Ceilings challenging Asian Women Entrepreneurs. Panelists talked about overcoming the barriers they faced, such as the expectation to place home-making and child-rearing over career, and how to balance providing direct feedback to colleagues, being careful to not be perceived as either weak or harsh, which are the stereotypical extremes commonly  associated with business women.

During her keynote address, Debra Lam, discussed her role as the Chief Innovation and Performance Officer for the City of Pittsburgh. Her presentation, entitled “The Innovation Roadmap,” outlined numerous projects the City of Pittsburgh has planned and implemented, such as a mobile site to find out when a street’s trash pick-up day is or locate where the snow plows are in the city.

Another memorable portion of the afternoon was when Bibhuti Aryal, CEO and Co-Founder of the Rukmini Foundation, spoke about the catastrophic earthquake that recently devastated Nepal, and implored the audience to donate to their relief fund so that the people of Nepal can begin rebuilding their communities.

Nicki Zevola wrote on her blog post that she was “honored to speak at the AACCP’s Asian-American Women Symposium at Chatham University. When representatives at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University asked me to speak, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been chosen to speak at other conferences about business, entrepreneurship, and online marketing, but since I’d never spoken about race or gender, I was thrilled to step up to the challenge.”

Chatham University’s Taiwan Study Abroad Blog Site also published a blog post stating that “[w]omen entrepreneurs around the world face similar challenges in balancing work and family, coping with parental expectations, facing stereotypes, and finding mentors.  The speakers discussed challenges and opportunities that have occurred on their career paths.”

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From Left: Nadia Elamin and Taehee Kim.

Taehee Kim, an Undergraduate Student majoring in biochemistry, said, “It was encouraging when every panelist said that being an Asian woman helped them to stand out from the pool of applicants.”

Nadia Elamin, an Undergraduate Student majoring in International Studies with a Middle Eastern Concentration, said, “I loved this event because it brings the perspective of Asian-American women and entrepreneurs to the forefront, encapsulating everything Chatham stands for.”

Dr. Rachel Chung, Director of Chatham’s Business Programs, considers this event to be of historical significance in the Pittsburgh region. According to a Census Bureau study that just came out in May 2015, Asians have replaced Mexicans as the largest group of immigrants in America! May happens to also be the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. “We are very proud that the symposium coincided with this significant moment in US history,” said Dr. Chung.

A heartfelt thanks to the event’s sponsors and donors, without which this ground-breaking symposium would not have been possible.  Sponsors included Mylan at the Gold level and PNC, Thrill Mill, and Agatson Actuarial at the Silver level.  Positively Pittsburgh was the event’s media sponsor.  Also, the event raised more than $1,000 for the Nepal earthquakes, thanks for the generous donations for the speakers, and raffle baskets from Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Yanlai Wu Dance Academy, Pop Stop, Wine and Words Pittsburgh, The Frick Art and Historical Center, Posti & Associates, and filmmaker Chai-Pi Phoebe Chao.

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