I Am Sawlf

On Saturday, March 9, hundreds of South Asian women will unite for Congress 2013 in New York City.

As part of our "I AM SAWLF" campaign - - and countdown to Congress - - we invite you to meet some of the remarkable women who plan to attend this year's extraordinary event as profiled by journalist Aarti Virani.

Dr. Sujana Chandrasekar

New York Otology

Ask Dr. Sujana Chandrasekar, director of New York Otology (a comprehensive hearing and balance diagnosis and management center), why she pursued the career she did and she responds with a warm, good-natured laugh. "Genetic predisposition," declares Chandrasekhar, 48, who was raised by an ENT surgeon father and a pediatrician mother. "If you listen to yourself, you hear your ancestry."

Chandrasekhar vividly remembers her father's classic, pre-vacation routine—stopping by his Manhattan hospital to check in on patients —and claims such interactions formed some of her fondest childhood memories. "I loved listening in on my parents' dinner table conversations and picking up on their passion about what they did," she says.

Passion certainly runs in the family. In addition to helming New York Otology, Chandrasekhar is an active and prominent member across the American otolaryngology arena. She recently received the Helen Kraus Trailblazer Award from the Women in Otolaryngology Section of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Sugery (AAO-HNS), along with a distinguished service award from the AAO-HNS (her second). As the former chair of the AAO-HNS's Board of Governors, Chandrasekhar was the second woman—and first South Asian—to hold the post. Her paper on sudden hearing loss—"I wrote that one when I was nursing my second son," confesses the mother of four—is the most accessed and downloaded manuscript in the history of the American Journal of Otology. "The representation of women in leadership positions in medicine is abysmal," she admits. "Nobody else really looks like me at meetings, nobody's name sounds like mine. Ultimately, I might have a funny name and different face but I have an American voice," she adds. "It's a visibility thing. The more women see me in these positions, the more they'll feel like they can do it too."

Making room for what matters has been a constant goal for the pioneering otologist. "If you don't say 'I'm too busy,' you can add it to your plate," Chandrasekhar explains. "As women, we're great at multi-tasking. We make sure we fill out that Brownie form and go to that baseball game. But when we need to be single-minded, we're focused, like laser beams," she adds. Case in point? In the midst of motherhood, her day job and juggling various leadership responsibilities, Chandrasekhar joined forces with a colleague to create Otodyne, a nasal spray that cures ear infections. "It's been a long and wonderful path," she says of a journey that began in 1994. "But the FDA has now approved us. This product could really revolutionize the way children and adults are treated."

Chandrasekhar's road to success, however, hasn't been without bumps. At a recent meeting, she was asked to discuss career mistakes. "I was like, 'how long do you have'?" she recalls, singling out a few memorable incidents—including not negotiating the salary for her very first job—as serious learning experiences. Honest revelations like these are what she especially looks forward to witnessing at the upcoming SAWLF Congress. "It's very empowering to be around successful women and to know that their path has not always been smooth," she says. "I enjoy meeting other women who have taken small detours and found a different path. I think there are many different ways of succeeding," she continues. "And if you stay within your tiny world, you don't see them."

Meet Dr. Sujana Chandrasekhar at Congress 2013.

Aarti Virani is a New Jersey-based arts, culture and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Vogue India and Travel + Leisure, among other publications.


2013 South Asian Women's Leadership Forum (SAWLF). All Rights Reserved. Congress Images by Seshu Photography. SAWLF Event Images by Mamta Badkar