On March 13-14 2021, in honor of International Women’s Day, South Asian women leaders from around the globe will convene and connect at the SEEMA Summit focused on this year’s theme: Choose to challenge. Women from London to LA, and Mumbai to Manhattan, Melbourne and beyond, will share their collective vision for what it means to be a leader of the community and discuss ways to increase representation in the mainstream.
South Asian women are motivated by tradition to succeed in all aspects of life, but their contributions go unrecognized by media leading to their obscurity in the mainstream, a first-of-its-kind survey conducted by SEEMA and first released last year during the SEEMA Summit showed.
“Culture and tradition are a key part of empowerment and achievement in modern Indian women in the United States and has led to their success in all aspects of life. But despite their multifaceted triumphs, mainstream media has failed to adequately showcase and represent Indian women, their contributions, or the culture that makes them unique and strong,” says Seema Kumar, founder of SEEMA.
The majority of Indian women feel stereotyped and underrepresented in television, movies, fashion and beauty, according to the survey. In fact, four out of five (81 percent) Indian women want content that gives them more prominence in the media. Indian and non-Indian women surveyed want to see more respect for Indian women characters, less stereotyping, and better portrayal in positive and prominent ways.
The 2021 SEEMA Summit will broaden the dialog and examine how the pandemic has shifted impacted the status of women and the perception of women in mainstream media. With themes focused on authentic leadership and entrepreneurship to scaling the career ladder and breaking barriers in the arts, the event aims to celebrate and showcase women who challenge the status quo and shed light on the barriers that still remain.
Conducted in 2019 and 2020, the SEEMA Survey, of nearly 1000 women, including nearly 400 Indian women, is the first to examine perceptions about the female Indus diaspora in the United States. While other research has focused on demographics, education or income, no organization until SEEMA has focused on understanding the hopes and aspirations of the Indian women diaspora and what empowers and motivates the modern Indian woman and her lifestyle today, says Kumar.
The survey found that the modern Indian woman is driven to achieve, motivated by a deep seated tradition to succeed, pride in her roots, and a desire to uphold her culture. For example, the SEEMA found 76 percent of Indian women surveyed agreed their culture plays a key role in defining who they are, nearly one in two believe that their Indian roots helped them achieve their goals. and 68 percent hope their children will carry forward family customs.
“The drive to achieve has resulted in a multitude of successful Indian women who are leading and breaking barriers in many fields today, from Politics and STEM to Fashion, Film, Food, Philanthropy and more,” says Kumar. “So the lack of representation in mainstream media, especially in TV, movies, fashion, beauty, is disappointing.”
All women surveyed admitted that there is a lot missing from how Indian women are currently portrayed, and Indian women said they wanted more exposure and airtime and not be forgotten by society. Despite the lack of quality representation, Indian women lead a rich and full life.
“It seems we Indian women are unstoppable,” says Kumar. “While we are annoyed by the lack of representation, it doesn’t stop us from living our lives to the fullest, enjoying a life of dining out, shopping, learning, social responsibility,” says Seema.
The survey showed that 83 percent of Indian women enjoy dining out–higher than other ethnicities surveyed; 81 percent consider themselves “shopaholics,” enjoying shopping more than other ethnicities; 84 percent (vs 76 percent non-Indians) believe it is important to keep learning and 71 percent buy brands that support local causes.
“The survey has given us a great foundation to better understand the psyche of the SEEMA audience and shape the content that we deliver,” says Kumar, who plans to broaden the survey to a larger cohort of South Asian women. “Ultimately, we want to lift up all women, across the world, and empower them to succeed, excel, and enjoy life to the fullest.”
Kantar US Insights conducted the survey of nearly 1000 adult women in the United States, including nearly 400 females who identified as being from India or of India descent.
The SEEMA Summit
SEEMA provided an exclusive debrief of the proprietary survey data to the attendees of the SEEMA Summit in New York City last year. Through panel conversations, breakout discussions and networking, the SEEMA Summit enabled connections for South Asian women who are influencers and change makers in their fields. The SEEMA Summit covered fields as diverse as culture, civil society, food, fashion and technology, with special sessions on entrepreneurship, work/life balance and the Coronavirus.
The SEEMA Summit also supported female-founded businesses via the selection of its catering, pop-up shops and partners. The SEEMA Summit was conducted in partnership with Berlin Cameron.
“While this year’s summit will be virtual, and we will miss the in-person connection we had last year, the pandemic has forced us to innovate and take the summit global,” says Kumar.
The U.S. Indus Community
With about 4.16 million members, the Indus community represents the largest South Asian population in the United States, according to the 2018 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.1 Of this group, 47.8 percent are women in 2018. Of women 25 or older, 33 percent obtained a bachelor’s or higher degree. Of those women 16 and older, 56 percent are employed, with 43 percent in management positions, 28 percent in sales and office positions, and 21 percent in service positions. The median income of women with full-time work was $42,238.
Reference: 1. U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. “Asian Alone Or In Any Combination By Selected Groups.” Table S0201.