Of Transcendent Wisdom: An Interview With Paramita Bandyopadhyay

This year I met two other women right around the same age as me and who, just like me, grew up in other countries, and then in 1996 decided to come to the States on their own to build a new life and career here, in a place where we felt we could become everything that we wanted to be as women. Paramita is from India. Fabi is from Mexico. I asked these two wonderful women, each of whom had travelled a road with both similarities and differences to my journey, if they would be willing to share their stories. Today’s blog tells Paramita’s story.

Paramita was born in India near Kolkata. She was a physics major in college. During her graduate degree she got a scholarship to do her PhD in an International school in Northern Italy. It was a life changing experience. The lady she lived with in Italy spoke four languages  – none of them being English. It was very different and for the first time she was outside the influence of everything she was very familiar with. This was also the time when she met her future husband. It was during her time in Italy that she realized she was doing physics to conform to expectations, but she felt she really needed to be in business. So she bucked the trend of her family’s expectations, took the GMAT, got admitted to business school in the US, came here and started her business education from Accounting 101. For the first time she was comfortable. She has never felt that her gender is a liability here. There was always tension in India with her personality relative to the Indian norm for women.

Paramita is now Director, Business Development, Citi Enterprise Payments. Even in her business career she has continued to encounter a lot of stereotypes and found that it is hard to get people to see you in a different way. When she finished business school she was hired by a Financial Services company. Her strength was working with numbers and analytics. But it was clear to Paramita that she wanted to be in a true business role, not an analytics heavy internal facing role. She had to do many parallel small moves to get to the point where she is completely business oriented i.e. external sales development versus internal analytics roles.

In the United States she has met so many people, professors, bosses, peers, male, female that have given her tremendous encouragement and confidence and it has changed her as a person. When Paramita started her career she limited herself to some degree because her vision and confidence in herself wasn’t big enough. She is so appreciative of all those people who saw so much potential in her and encouraged her to be bold, to take more risk. Even as recently as her last job at Citi she was moving along in a vertically secure way, from position to position. But then she made the bold move to join a new venture at Citi – Citi Enterprise Payments. It’s a small team and is run like an entrepreneurial startup. They don’t have a big team of folks to leverage to execute work, they have to do a lot more of the hands on work themselves. Many people she knew thought she was nuts and it was a big risk. And it was a big risk, in fact her biggest career risk she has taken to date. But she’s growing, she’s learning, she’s challenged, she’s lining up experiences that give her the competitive edge.

In India her gender felt like a liability. Here it doesn’t feel that way to her. But even so, as Paramita writes her next chapters, she has surprised herself by arriving at a point where she finds herself telling young women: Even though we are all competing it’s really important that women help women. Five years ago she didn’t feel that way. She competed with men, she felt she didn’t need anything special, that everything was equal and she didn’t believe in women helping women. But as she got into this business development job she became more acutely aware of this issue, as she recognized that at the end of the day we all like people that are like us. She walked into a cocktail session in New York last year and everyone in front of her was in black suit with grey hair or bald. She couldn’t see a single woman. It felt daunting. The men didn’t want to discuss business products over cocktails. They wanted to discuss basketball with men. It struck her that to counteract that we have to create women’s equivalent groups. In the cab on the way back she called Human Resources and told them that she wanted to start a women’s group, and it now has 188 women members. She cannot believe she did that. At twenty-five she would have had contempt for that. But as she moves forward now and writes her next chapters, she is focusing on that advocacy and support across genders and also within genders.

It intrigued me that this amazing woman, from another part of the world, who had traveled a road with many parallels to mine in a timeframe very similar to mine, shared some other characteristics with me. We both like change. We’ve both travelled extensively to other cities for business and pleasure and love to do that, but we both love Chicago as the place to hang our hat and call home. For Paramita, her two most favored other cities are New York and San Francisco. Both of us feel the United States is the place for us to be to most fully become what we believe we can be. Both of our parents still reside in other countries. In Paramita’s case – India. In my case – my parents now live in Australia, having left South Africa in the late 1990’s. Both of us feel that we have two separate and distinct parts of our lives which we haven’t yet figured out how to reconcile. The part before the United States, and the part in the United States. We both liken it to putting the prior part of our lives in a box and not yet being able to figure out what to do with these two parts of our lives that are so different. We agreed with each other that maybe as we age further we’ll figure out that puzzle, because we certainly both have a strong desire to do so.

I asked Paramita for some parting tips that she wanted to share with other women. Her thoughts:

  • Believe in yourself. It reflects in your demeanor. It shows through in a positive way with clients.
  • It’s not just what you are producing in terms of your work but also what you are thinking that makes such a profound impact.
  • In most situations men’s natural strengths are considered  a strength for every job. Women can do equally well, even when we do things differently, in the way we do them as women. Hopefully we can reach a point where we don’t feel like we have to behave like men in order to succeed.
  • Women need to help women.

Paramita was named after a Buddhist goddess, and the name means ‘of transcendent wisdom’. A fitting name indeed, reflected by the wisdom that Paramita had been generous enough to share with me, and therefore with you the reader, during this interview.