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Caixin’s Nandini Venkata on podcasting in China

by Tom Pattinson
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When she’s not creating podcasts for Caixin Global, Nandini Venkata is busy hosting the likes of Dr Jane Goodall at Beijing Women’s Network events and drawing inspiration from female tech pioneer Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley. Here she tells Judith Mwai her story.

My job is all about making podcasts for Caixin Global, China’s top independent news outlet specialising in economic, business and financial news. My responsibilities include writing scripts, recording and editing the audio tracks, and I frequently speak on the China Biz Roundup, our daily news podcast, where we explain the biggest developments taking place in the world’s second-largest economy in a straightforward and fun manner.

Before joining I had no experience in audio editing or recording, but certain critical things in my past have really helped me in this position. Much of my previous work experience had been either at government agencies or in media and in these roles, I often researched and wrote about China’s current affairs. This all gave me valuable experience in breaking down information on complicated matters into concise news articles, reports or presentations. Making the decision to go back to school to get a Master’s Degree in Economics was another game changer. Not only did this give me a lot more confidence but it helped me better understand and analyse relevant policy debates –  all of which is critical for reporting the news.

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I’m half Indian, half Irish and grew up in Germany and the UK. As a result of my multicultural background, I developed a fascination with uncovering stories from the rest of the world from a young age. This eventually sparked my interest in journalism. After becoming an avid podcast listener over the past five years, I have always thought that doing something like this for a living would be amazing.

Our China Biz Roundup episodes are about 10 minutes long, but it can take a number of hours to put one of these shows together. After selecting the top three news stories for the day, my race to write the script within our very tight deadline begins. Once our editors give the green light for the script, I head to our studio to get everything ready for the recording session. For me, this is definitely the most fun part of the work day as I get to interact with my colleagues. Although we use the script as a guide, we also like to crack a few spontaneous jokes. Then it’s time to sit down and edit the audio before finally uploading the new episode onto our website.

Someone I greatly admire is (British tech pioneer) Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley. She is probably one of the most influential women in the business world, but her life definitely did not start out easy. Early on she grappled with incredibly traumatic challenges, arriving in the UK as a Holocaust refugee at the age of five. As a young woman in a male-dominated industry, she also faced major obstacles. Instead of giving up, she pushed harder to break the glass ceiling.

She signed off her business letters with a male name, soon discovering that companies were more interested to meet with a ‘Steve’ rather than a ‘Stephanie’– even if the two shared the exact same qualifications and experience. Shirley launched her own software company in the 1960s that went on to be staggeringly successful. For quite a few years, she even almost exclusively hired female employees as she knew just how difficult it was for them to move up or even get on the career ladder. I also love her saying that “You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads. They’re flat on top from being patted patronisingly.” The words give me motivation when I find myself being spoken down to or being undermined.

Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley said “You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads. They’re flat on top from being patted patronisingly” – those words give me motivation when I find myself being spoken down to

I think one of the biggest challenges women face in media is that they are far too often underestimated. I suspect this all stems from unfortunate preconceived assumptions about our capabilities and character. For example, I was once asked in a job interview if I was ‘too nice’ to handle the role. I really am not sure whether male applicants would have been asked the same bizarre question.

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I count myself as extremely fortunate to have worked, both past and present, with fantastic bosses and colleagues who absolutely have not make me feel any less capable because of my gender or race. But I have had some previous bosses who appeared far more keen to ‘invest’ in my male counterparts by taking them under their wing and offering them professional opportunities. Clearly, such an unfortunate tendency to overlook women – whether it’s a conscious decision or not – is problematic. It simply makes it harder for female professionals to advance in their careers. Similarly, if what you say is always being second-guessed or you’re not getting credit when it’s due, then this can cause a lot of insecurity and ramp up the pressure to ‘prove yourself’.  In my twenties I definitely fell into this trap, frequently volunteering to take on extra responsibilities and work overtime, all in the hope of getting noticed and rewarded. But, I’ve come to realise such an approach just isn’t sustainable in the long-run.

In the end the only way out is to speak up instead of waiting for others to notice you. Being modest won’t get us very far in our careers. For me, one of the biggest sources of encouragement has been discussing these hurdles with other women in the industry. It’s made me realise that not only am I far from the only one who has faced such challenges, but it’s also been motivating to see how many of these ladies have persevered and forged incredibly successful careers despite such setbacks. This has been a big reason why I wanted to get involved in a community where women support each other to grow.

In 2019, I joined the committee of Beijing Women’s Network (BWN). Our community’s goal is to empower local and expat women on both a professional and personal level. As part of this mission, our team of seven volunteers creates opportunities for our members to network, connect with mentors and hone new skills. For example, as the chair of BWN’s Applied Skills series, I have organised training workshops on salary negotiation, resume writing and navigating career transitions.

One of the biggest highlights of my entire BWN experience was hosting Dr Jane Goodall DBE as our keynote speaker in November 2019. At these events, we encourage our speakers to not only discuss their professional achievements but also share challenges they have faced and hard lessons they have had to learn. I believe there is something very powerful and comforting about hearing a so-called ‘successful’ person reveal another side and open up about vulnerabilities. It shows that none of us have it all figured out and we all have our own struggles.

There is something very powerful and comforting about hearing a so-called ‘successful’ person reveal another side and open up about vulnerabilities

For anyone considering launching their own podcast, there are, first, some practical issues to bear in mind. That includes having the correct equipment, access to a studio (or at least somewhere quiet where you can record), and, of course getting to grips with audio editing.  If you are new to the skill, you can find many great free tutorials online, but you can definitely learn a lot faster if you can get someone experienced to walk you through the software – even if it’s just for a couple of hours.

If you plan on using a script for your recording sessions, then make sure to ‘write for the ear’ so that you can better hold the attention of your audience. Given our limited attention spans, it’s best to use everyday language and lengthy words and sentences.

It’s critical to have a growth mind-set don’t get discouraged if you think you’re not properly prepared or are scared of getting things wrong. As with many things in life, if you wait to be ready, you will wait forever. Making mistakes is all part of the learning process.

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