women's panel organised at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), female members of the industry patted themselves on the back and discussed ways to scale further heights, aided by Indian actress Preity Zinta.
Indian American families own 35 to 40 per cent of hotel-motel properties around the U.S. Some Indian American women hoteliers have worked for decades alongside their husbands in making a success of these family-run properties. Today they and their daughters are flexing some muscle.
Despite their importance and their illustrious careers, very few women have made it to the board or as regional directors at AAHOA. At the conference, where around 40 percent of the 3,700 attendees were women, this issue was also raised.
Lata Krishnan, founder of SMART Modular Technologies and president of the non-profit American India Foundation (AIF), defined success as a legacy to children.
"As a mom, the best expression of success is how your children think of you," she said, "It doesn't matter what walk of life you come from - the legacy is the contribution you make to your community and the human spirit."
Earlier at the opening session of the AAHOA convention, Krishnan made a pitch for AIF, saying it was a privilege to be serving women and children in India. "What we are trying to create is a Rockefeller Foundation for our community".
Krishnan continued at the women's panel: "Even with the excitement of running a public company in Silicon Valley, it does not compare with the excitement of seeing the light in the eye of an underprivileged child in Gujarat."
For Preity, non-profit work has involved creating AIDS awareness. "AIDS in India is spreading like fire. It all started with truckers going all ver -- so it is even in small villages," said Preity who works with a non-profit in Punjab. "In India, people are very poor, they don't have TV, haven't even heard of America."
Nancy Poor, president of Travelodge Hotels, who said she had spent her career in the male-dominated industry, found the power of women is not yet unleashed.
"Women have a skill set which exceeds that of men - they are better disciplined, better organised, more pragmatic, collaborators," said panellist Poor.
Krishnan saved the panel from becoming a male-bashing contest saying: "For the women who do succeed, there are these incredible men - husbands, fathers, sons."
But she conceded, "there is an assumption in the Indian American community that the woman is always seen as 'helping out', a reality that has to be changed.
To become more like Poor or Krishnan or Preity may be some women's objective, but to do that, Poor said: "I coach women to toot their horn. Men do that."
Giving back and mentoring is key to these women's success. "The fallacy in non-profit work is that you are giving something," Krishnan contended at the conference, held from April 24 to 26. "In my two years, I found it is the opposite. You come away feeling much more helped, enriched."
At question time, concerns were raised about post-September 11 experiences of women of colour and South Asians in general. Krishnan felt "integration" was key.
"Integration is what we must do. Sometimes we are overly sensitive - when there is angst in the air. After 9/11 ... if there is a sense of worry in the community (US), we should be sensitive, not differentiate ourselves, and work on integration."
"Life is way too short and you must make a conscious effort to surround yourself with people who make you feel good and put you on a high. You must be the change you want to make," Krishnan said quoting Mahatma Gandhi.