Supporting Diverse Perspectives and Team Building with Janpriya Rooprai
To wrap up our Diversity Trilogy, we address an important part of the workplace equation – the employees. We discuss diversity from an employee’s perspective and dive into how team progress can be fostered through DEI.
Arin Vahanian: All right. Thank you for joining us for yet another session of Polo Tax’s Start-Up Nation. Today I have the pleasure of announcing my favorite guests so far, the one and only Janpriya Rooprai of the Asena Family Office, the mastermind behind Asena Family Office. Before we start, I should just say that I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Janpriya over the last few years, and I think this is going to be a really great episode with her. So without further ado, Janpriya, welcome to the show.
Janpriya Rooprai: Thanks, Arin. It’s lovely to be here. It’s always nice talking to you. And doing my first podcast with you is like icing on the cake.
Arin Vahanian: Thank you so much. And look, I really enjoyed working with you the last couple of years, and this going to be really interesting because we’ve had the experience of working together in different locations, of course, and then occasionally, occasionally meeting up for company meetings, right, our annual meetings. This is the first time we’ve done something like this. So I think this is going to be rather interesting for our audience. And so today’s episode is going to build upon the last few podcasts we did. First, the one with Hayley Sudbury, if you haven’t already checked that out, I really recommend you do so, and then the one after that with Naomi Seddon. So we’ve had a lot of discussions around diversity and why it’s important, especially for a startup. We’ve discussed the data around it, the metrics, the facts behind why it’s good to have diversity in a startup. Today’s topic is going to be slightly different. We will still talk about diversity, but from an employee perspective and I think Janpriya this might be a good opportunity to talk a little bit about where you came from in terms of your work history and the diversity that you’ve seen in the places you’ve worked and whether it was a large company or a small company, and also how you think that impacted the company morale and just coworker relationships.
Janpriya Rooprai: Sure. Arin. I think coming from a country like India, when we talk about diversity, it’s more about the fact that how ‘out of the box’ thinking we have because most of the population in India is in terms of educated crowd. The aspect of the background in which we are built out in a family, is more about the education that you need to have – a minimum education. So right after graduation, it was more for me to get into a professional, you know, hold a professional degree. I did my chartered accountancy and I got into a Tier 1 law firm where it was not only being a chartered, accountant was one thing; getting into law firm and adding on to your credentials. And that is when I started pursuing law at the same time. And I think it has been a journey throughout to work and study at the same time because the kind of possibilities that opened for you, not even in terms of an employee, but in terms of contribution to the business where you’re working, adds on to things. And I think I work with Tier 1 law firms, move to accounting firms, big four accounting firms, and every place you see that the contribution that you give to your business is your own, it kind of carries on with you in terms of a personality or a career you build for yourself, and that really adds to the network of people you are associated with, whether in terms of your mentor mentee relationship or having even good team to work with. I have been part of teams where I was the first woman to work on the teams. So bringing a different perspective in terms of how to work with a woman in the team was kind of a very different experience for myself because there was never a cultural, I would say, education about the fact that there is difference in terms of the opportunities or in terms of the possibilities as a woman. The more emphasis was having a good education and going out to the world and kind of contributing to it. And even today I think with the team I work with, it is more from the fact that I like when people come to me and they want a solution to any, any query they have. I think it’s good to brainstorm with them, understand their perspective, put down what I can bring to the table and then brainstorm and kind of find a solution, be it for client, be it for internal, kind of addressing any query.
Janpriya Rooprai: So moving from law firms to accounting firms in India and then moving to US for education and pursuing my Masters in Law at Georgetown, I think thereafter was the first time when I learned about the fact that that within the US, when you are applying for jobs, there’s no discrimination on the basis of your caste, your color or and including other perspectives, which was a good thing about the fact that you give equality. But still, I think there is more emphasis when we discuss about diversity, that we talk about topics which might not be relevant to people as such, because as people are growing, they more concerned with what they are bringing: originality in terms of their background, experience, skills. And that is what we need to talk about when you’re talking about startup businesses, because that’s the idea of originality that we are bringing in.
Arin Vahanian: Wow, so that was a lot of good points there. I’d like to, if I may go back to what you said about in one of the positions you had where you were the only woman in that in that company. So what was that like? Maybe walk us through that experience. And I mean, honestly, like, how did that feel and how did you get sort of acclimated to working there and how was it overall?
Janpriya Rooprai: Yeah. I think there have been two positions where I worked as the first woman and let me talk about the recent one because this is the one where I enter the firm as a tax advisor and moved into a leadership role. And when I entered the firm, I was the only woman among the three other men who were working. And I think when we our quarterly reviews, I think the senior management was more open in discussing that the agility, the stability in the team and the fact of different experiences that I bring on the table and discussing any aspect was very different from what others brought. And I think that is what you need because at the end of the day, when we are trying to sell our clients, how different we could be and at the same time how we can meet clients’ needs. But at the same time we need to appreciate that we are all coworkers working together to find a solution, which is for the best interest of the clients and within the legal parameters. So I think whenever I am working, there is never a subconscious effort to the fact that I’m working as a woman and what I need to bring to the table. But at the same time, I think what is more important is the inclusiveness that the team gives you when you are at the time of making a decision and the respect they give you towards that.
Arin Vahanian: Yeah, indeed. Look, I totally agree. So it looks like, based on what you’re saying, that overall it was a positive experience, it sounds like. Right. And it looks like the team welcomed you with open arms.
Janpriya Rooprai: Surely, you know, those are the things which really make you stay where you are and grow with the team, which is very important. And I know there are concerns about the fact that, you know, the remuneration paid to the woman, the exposure that the woman get in a team or there are dogmas still around the fact that the time balance that a women needs to maintain. And the flexibility around that comes with the team members you have.
Arin Vahanian: Well, I think you’re so right about that. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it does come down to the team members you’ve got and management support is also, I think, really, really important. And that was correct me if I’m wrong, Janpriya. Yeah, that was that was in an Indian company. Is that right?
Janpriya Rooprai: This one, is about where I’m working – Asena Advisors. I think this is the experience I wanted to bring in to the table because coming from an Indian origin and coming to US, you know, studying here, work experience kind of adds to the background experience that I have working with other firms. So that’s the reason I give this example.
Arin Vahanian: That’s excellent. And how did you find the transition? Because obviously so you grew up in India and initially had your education there and then you moved to the US, you went to Georgetown. How did you find that transition? Did you find that it was maybe more difficult than you thought or maybe easier than you thought?
Janpriya Rooprai: In terms of the education system, it was entirely different. And I think as an Indian coming into US education system, it was quick nine months to kind of, you know, be in the market searching for jobs. But the transition, I think having worked with big accounting firms, we’ve seen the multicultural and diversity aspect in India. But then coming into a place where you see people from more than 160 countries and you’re interacting with them, that’s altogether a different experience. And I think coming from that perspective and getting into the job market, it was a quick transition, but at the same time very informative, really good experience.
Arin Vahanian: Well, it certainly sounds like it. You know, just having worked with you in the last couple of years, you seem to get along with all different kinds of people. So in addition to your obviously your accounting background and your legal background, I think you’ve got the people skills as well. So we’ve talked about the diversity of roles, diversity of job functions. But what about from an employee perspective? What’s so good about having diversity in a startup, especially vis a vis the employee morale from your experience?
Janpriya Rooprai: I recently read about what Amazon looks into when interviewing a candidate. They want to first look at a person that whether that person admires the person (the other person) he or she is working with. It’s really important because I think, as Plato said, the heaviest penalty for declining to rule or, you know, work is to be ruled by someone inferior. So it’s important that we have that clarity in our mind that the business that we are working with or the startup we are contributing to, we have the clarity of the vision as an employee with what we really want to do in our life. And I think that’s the reason whenever you’re working in an interview, you generally ask the question that “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Because you want to have that clarity of vision about yourself. So when you ask about morale, I think morale comes only with the values that are built in over the time, either with your background, your parents, or the people you’re working with. And it is very important to have that clarity in your vision about what you really want to be and go according to that so that you don’t have to compromise on it.
Janpriya Rooprai: There would be challenges, but I think it is important, at the end of the day, I think we all are at this stage of our life having experiences of like more than 12 to 15 years, that now we understand that the aspects that we thought while we started our job are not that relatively important. Initially in interviews, we would talk about the fact that we want to do good work. It was more from the perspective to get more experience. And with that we saw the team members that we got, the kind of work we got, the kind of clients that we got, the network that we built, all that comes with you, with all the experience that you have, and at the same time making sure that you are compensated well as well. Because that really helps you to have that balance in your life. And if that really bothers you, I think an open discussion with your employer really helps to go around it just to understand the perspective. Because when you say morale, sometimes you get motivation not only from the fact that what you’re contributing in a team, sometimes people get motivated also with the monetary aspect that they are getting out of that job. So making sure I think this is dual work, both from the side of an employer and employee in terms of working in a business that they are inclusive about it. And working in a startup nowadays has been more about the fact of what originality do you bring and how you compensated for that.
Arin Vahanian: Well, those are a lot of good points there. So I guess I guess what I’d like to know, Janpriya, is what are some of the things that startups do wrong when it comes to approaching diversity? So specifically, throughout your experience, have you seen any scenarios in which a company has got it terribly wrong in terms of diversity? And what were some of the consequences?
Janpriya Rooprai: When we think about startups, I think we just think about the fact that we want to do something different. And in doing that different, I think it is important that we stick to that thought process on which we are building the business. And the team that we have is really, really on the right track in terms of achieving it. And what we also need from the perspective is kind of checking in not only with how the team is functioning, but also how we are delivering to our customers and clients. And we should appreciate that startups generally happens to be a small business that starts to be together with a few individuals. And I think there is a mark after which once you grow your team that you see, there might be more, I think, thoughts coming in and more things that are adding onto the team. But even if we are doing that, I think it’s important for a business or the management team or the leadership team to be much more focused as to what they see that is coming up in the future in order to be prepared for it. It is important to have certain aspects which are very clearly set out, like having a tax preparer on file, getting the books to be accounted better because those are the things that you cannot compensate on. And, the designated jobs that are essential for running a business should always be there and should be a cost assigned to it because those wouldn’t be cost in future running of the business. Those, rather would be a contribution to better running and setting out the process. And I think while working with you, what I have really appreciated is that having a process in place can really help business to grow from where you are to where you want to be. And that clarity should always be there.
Arin Vahanian: Thanks for the kind words. You know, one thing you said that really resonated with me was when you just said that when one is in a startup, they’re often trying to do something different. Right. And that just makes perfect sense, right? When you’re in a startup, essentially you’re trying to do something that ideally that hasn’t been done before. Right? So I think it becomes very important to have diversity just because people from different backgrounds and different places could have different inputs. Right. And maybe help you see things you hadn’t considered before. Has that been your experience when when working in a in a diverse workplace or perhaps when working somewhere, maybe it wasn’t as diverse as you would have hoped. Do you think that the company suffered as a result?
Janpriya Rooprai: Well, I think, as I said, being the first woman in a few of the teams that I worked with, I think it’s more about the fact that it’s making us strong and kind of putting up what we really believe in and at the same time being very mindful as to what the team believes or the organization believes in terms of its vision. And in startups, I think you need to bring that excellence onto that table and kind of be more original in the thought process. Because even in all the startups it’s more from the perspective that how you are doing the same thing differently.
Janpriya Rooprai: I think the retention of the client only is maintained once the client feels that there is something different or there’s something personable that the professional is providing. So this is an entire journey from the fact that where you start from with a client relationship or onboarding a client relationship to where you go with that client. And coming back to your question, to maintain that in a startup business, I think is more of a challenge because when you have your first client in the business, it’s more from the fact that you want to provide everything to that client. But when we have the ten or 20 or 100 clients, you cannot do the same thing, but you can set a process around it to be more mindful as to the fabric of the businesses not compromised That is what is important within employees to understand and for employer to kind of narrate that to the employee. And once you have a parity on that, it is much more easier to run business.
Arin Vahanian: Well, that’s so true, isn’t it? That is really very true. And so related to that. What do you think are some things that startups should do in terms of diversity now? Well, not necessarily from an operations perspective per se, or from a looking at the numbers perspective. But what do you think startups should do more of when it comes to diversity, maybe fostering an environment that’s more conducive to diversity? I’m very curious to know what your thoughts are on that and what sort of advice would you give a startup that’s maybe struggling in this area?
Janpriya Rooprai: As we’ve discussed, it is more from the fact that what skills, what interests, what perspective or what experience are an individual brings. And I think that is what needs to be looked into. So when you have those skill sets and you are able to kind of present on that to kind of make sure that it matches the vision of the company. I think that is what an important aspect that the employer or a startup should look into while hiring people and an employee to look into whether they would have the feasible environment to kind of present that to the employer. And in order to do that, I think it’s important to understand, to read about what business you might be entering into and whether that interests your skill set, whether it is a place where you can contribute. And I think that really helps kind of backing the employee morale.
Arin Vahanian: Wow. So I really like how you focused on the employee because we hear a lot of stuff about, “oh, companies aren’t doing enough to create the right culture”, but actually, doesn’t the culture come from the people within the company to a large extent? Now, of course, management has as a big responsibility to sort of set the tone, but also too people joining the startup. Don’t they have a responsibility to look at themselves and and be honest with themselves and say, I think this is a good fit or it’s not a good fit. Right?
Janpriya Rooprai: See, I feel you only need rules and legal jargons or, you know, processes in place when we need to kind of be much more disciplined in our life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have those rules and kind of processes in place because that defines a business and it kind of gels with the the vision of the business, because if we don’t have those in place, you and I know better coming from operations background that it’s important to have that for a regular checkup just to see how everyone is doing. It’s a form of that. But when we start taking it in a way that it has not been set out, then we see different results. Then we see conflicts, then we see people not getting on the same page. But I think the idea or the vision with which such processes are generally put in place is to make sure that it is more inclusive. So it’s an entire well which kind of refills with water each day so that you can really have happy tastebuds.
Arin Vahanian: Well I love that analogy about the well I will use that in the future with your permission.
Janpriya Rooprai: Sure. Go ahead. That was spontaneous, but go ahead.
Arin Vahanian: Oh, that was great. And look, we’re now approaching the end of our segment, unfortunately, because I’d love to sit here all day and chat with you. But I was just wondering, Janpriya, what are maybe some takeaways that you hope people will have after listening to this segment? What do you hope that they will walk away with?
Janpriya Rooprai: Sure. I would like to quote a poet and a philosopher from South India. His name is Thiruvalluvar. He says that wisdom is to live in tune with the mood of the changing world. And we all know changes are only constant that we have. And I think for businesses it is more important that they have a clear vision and it is discussed for the employees time and again. And in case they feel that there needs to be a change around it, then there needs to be change around the process in place and it needs to be communicated to all the employees, whether if there is a hierarchy from top to bottom, if there is a flat hierarchy to everyone who is involved in it. And I think from employees perspective, what is the contribution that they bring on the table in terms of their skill set, in terms of their interests, in terms of their personal perspective, in terms of the experience. Working together in that environment that can help business. And yes, the challenges should be addressed on time. We cannot kind of postpone that because once we start postponing it, you’ll see that people are more inclusive to the fact that they are ready to address challenge up front ahead rather than when we kind of postpone it. So have like a regular check up with your employees, have process around in place and be mindful that the costs that are relevant to the business should be incurred so as to make sure that the employer and employees both are happy and the company as such can move ahead at a good pace rather than at a fast or a slower pace. It depends upon what they really want to do and where they really want to see themselves in future.
Arin Vahanian: Wow. That’s definitely going to give our listeners some food for thought, especially those of our listeners who are in a startup or who are thinking about joining a startup. So, Janpriya I’d like to thank you once again for joining us today and being part of Polo Tax’s Start-Up Nation podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed having you today, just like I thoroughly enjoy working with you and I hope you’ll be able to join us in the future for other episodes. So today’s episode wraps up what I’d like to call the Diversity Trilogy. So once again, I’d like to thank you for joining us today and maybe we’ll see you again on our show in the future, I hope.
Janpriya Rooprai: Thank you, Arin. And sure, I think whenever you want to talk to me, I’m here right away.
Arin Vahanian: I’ll take you up on that offer. Thanks again for joining.