Paroma Roy Chowdhury is the Senior Director, Asia Communications and Public Affairs, SoftBank Group International.
Shilpa Jain: Why is being financially independent important to you?
Paroma Roy Chowdhury: Financial independence is absolutely necessary for realizing the full potential of an individual, making important life decisions and developing sustained self-worth. If one thing that I have cherished all my life, is my financial independence – I started giving tuition and writing when I was 18 and have been financially independent ever since. This has allowed me to be completely free in both life and career choices and not be bound by conventions and lack of resources.
SJ: For the benefit of our young women, what does a career in corporate communication entail? And what are the various facets to it?
PRC: In very simple terms, it is about managing the face of an organisation. Corp Comm helps manage the reputation of a company and its standing among all stakeholders from the government, the industry, the media, campus, community and even internally, its board, employees and potential talent. It is NOT managing media relations alone. Depending on the industry segment and the organisation, it may include government relations, investor relations, CSR and advocacy as well. I personally do policy advocacy and CSR along with Communications, in my role at SoftBank.
SJ: Does every sector in the corporate world require a corporate communications specialist?
PRC: Yes, pretty much, unless the company does not need to communicate with the external world at all, which is very rarely the case. An organization may not speak to the media, but may still need to communicate with the government, industry and community .
SJ: What are the key skills required (both in terms of academics as well as soft skills) to pursue a career in corporate communication?
PRC: Strong verbal, written and now, digital communication skills. High awareness of current affairs and an interest in news, particularly financial and political. Reading habit. Poise and confidence. An ability to maintain confidentiality. Calmness in the face of crisis and adversity. And intelligence helps in any career. Resilience and having a thick skin does too.
A background in liberal arts, particularly in English or Social Sciences or Economics is helpful. A stint in journalism is helpful but not mandatory. And neither is a degree in Communications or Advertising or Media Studies. There is no bar as such. Some of the best journalists I know have backgrounds in Math and other hard sciences and Management. When I hire, I look at the quality of educational institutions for a fresher and the richness of experience for a mid-career professional.
SJ: Is it easy to find jobs in corporate communication? As a natural corollary, how rewarding is this career?
PRC: Yes. For good people, opportunities are many. You can start in journalism or a reputed PR agency to gain experience and then switch to a company. I did that and it has been intensely rewarding. This is a career, where you can become a trusted advisor to the CEO and CXOs and have a proverbial seat at the table pretty fast.
SJ: How is the diversity quotient in this career?
PRC: Reverse diversity is required here as there is a preponderance of women.
SJ: What are some of the challenges you faced in the path to your professional growth & success?
PRC: I have always thought of a career as a marathon and not as a sprint. There would be speed bumps, bends in the road, some falls and some stretches of glorious run. The greatest gift you can gift yourself is that of resilience, the ability to pick yourself up, dust off and move on. And an ability to laugh at yourself ☺. I have handled many kinds of crises , ranging from diplomatic issues, brutal personal attacks on the CEO and the brand, employee deaths, legal imbroglios, and a mix of resilience and professional credibility has helped me weather them.
SJ: What would you advise our young women who wish to pursue a career in corporate communication? Which is one key trait or skill, in your opinion, which will make one stand out and be successful in this career?
PRC: Be really interested in what you do. Be aware, informed and confident. Add value wherever you can. If you are credible and have a track record of performance, people usually listen to you and gradually, you earn that seat at the table. And don’t be afraid to be the bearer of bad news. You often have to be one.
SJ: Are there internship opportunities in corporate communication?
PRC: Yes. Mostly with agencies of repute. Sometimes, large companies also offer internships.
SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her? And any message for the Foundation in general?
PRC: I think the Foundation is doing an excellent job of connecting young women with industry experts and mentors and also with each other. I wish I had access to such a career resource when I was younger. You should just keep up the good work and flourish!
Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with
Answer: I would name two. Internationally, Barack Obama. And in India, Raghuram Rajan, though technically he is a non-resident Indian,
Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers
Answer: I read a lot. So will name several. It might sound cliched but the Gita, for teaching yourself the art of working without the desire for spoils. Sun-Tzu, the Art of War, for career and even life strategies. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for the importance of the intent to do good. For younger women, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-in, to understand the importance of the choices you make.
Question: 3 things on your bucket list
- To travel to Machhu Pichhu and the Dead Sea.
- To write a non-fiction book.
- To advise a major political party on its communication strategy.
- To go bald once in my life…. Seriously ☺