Roma Singhal Kalra: Redefining Boundaries and Inspiring Change – My Journey as The Smiling Strategist

Roma Singhal Kalra: Redefining Boundaries and Inspiring Change – My Journey as The Smiling Strategist

Roma Singhal Kalra, AKA ‘The Smiling Strategist‘ is founder of Brandself in Australia. Here, Kalra opens up about her experience as an immigrant who has successfully established an advertising business in Australia, highlighting the struggles she’s faced and the experiences she has gained through her journey…


When I embarked on my professional journey, little did I know that I would become known as The Smiling Strategist, leaving a mark on the ad industry. However, my path in Australia was far from easy. Unlike my experiences in Singapore, where opportunities came knocking within weeks, Australia greeted me with mixed emotions. I was taken aback when I heard phrases like “It’s your privilege to be here” upon my arrival. While I deeply appreciate the beauty of life in Australia, it pained me to witness immigrants like myself being looked down upon when all we sought was a chance to flourish. After all, Australia itself is a magnificent tapestry woven together by the stories and dreams of immigrants from all walks of life.

As I stepped foot in Sydney, my mind was swirling with thoughts. Initially, I had considered a move to Hong Kong, but fate had other plans. I met my beloved husband in Sri Lanka at a destination wedding, and he led me to this vibrant city. I had naively believed that transitioning would be effortless, just like the previous chapters of my life. However, reality hit me hard. Weeks turned into months, and I found myself grappling with the unexpected challenge of securing a job. It was disconcerting for someone with a stellar track record in planning. Along the way, I met two types of people—those who were willing to embrace someone from a different background and those who, regrettably, exhibited racist tendencies and boldly declared that I wouldn’t find success in Australia. But I resolved within myself that no one else would shape my destiny but me.

In 2019, I took a leap of faith and launched Brandself in Sydney. It marked the beginning of my freelance journey in Australia, where I collaborated with esteemed agencies and clients as The Smiling Strategist throughout the country. Not content with personal accomplishments alone, I also established Royale Artisan, an online gift store dedicated to uplifting rural communities, and Selfconcept, a humanitarian initiative focused on empowering individuals through self-awareness. As time passed, I began to revel in this new way of life. Entrepreneurship became my full-time passion, and the individuals I encountered along the way embraced me for who I truly am—a person with a multicultural background, a unique blend of cultural flavours. It was my work that spoke volumes, transcending any preconceived biases or limitations.

However, amidst my own accomplishments, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of openness to individuals from diverse backgrounds within the industry. Homogeneity seemed to overshadow the beauty of heterogeneity. I implore you to take a moment and look around your workplace. Do you see an equitable representation of people of colour? Are unconscious biases at play? Do you truly respect and honour the diversity that surrounds you? These questions are worth pondering.

A recent survey by Catalyst sheds light on the profound impact of colourism and texturism on women of colour in the workplace. After interviewing 2,734 incredible women from marginalised racial and ethnic groups across Australia, Canada, South Africa, the UK, and the US, the findings were eye-opening, revealing that 51% of respondents had experienced racism in their current workplace. It is disheartening to see how women with darker skin tones, those with Afro-textured hair, and trans and queer women face disproportionate discrimination. This must change.

Throughout my journey, I have made the difficult decision to leave roles tainted by discrimination. I refuse to accept being labeled a misfit simply because of my diverse cultural background. Instead, I call upon the industry to embrace and celebrate these so-called misfits, for it is within our unique perspectives that the seeds of creative diversity are sown.

I’ve encountered racist comments and micro-aggressions. People have casually made remarks disguised as jokes about my colour, my accent, and where I come from. But let me make it unequivocally clear—it has not been amusing. I commend The Advertising Council of Australia for their Create Space initiative, and we need more. Consider recruiting worthy interns from diverse backgrounds. It would make a huge impact to the the DEI initiative. We need individuals who are willing to challenge the status quo, to shift the dialogue in our industry, and to move beyond fear on an ongoing basis. Only then can we create a level playing field for all.

In Australia, we hold dear the value of equal opportunity and what is often referred to as a ‘fair go.’ We believe that an individual’s achievements in life should be a reflection of their talents, hard work, and dedication, rather than their wealth or background. Together, let us champion the essence of equal opportunity, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, is granted the same platform to showcase their talents and realise their dreams. By fostering an inclusive society, where diversity is celebrated, we can create a truly harmonious and prosperous future.

As a proud Australian of Indian heritage, I stand tall, urging my peers to appreciate the richness of my culture’s cuisine, and to join me in celebrating our festivities. I am proud of my roots. My father, a respected past leader at Johnson & Johnson, instilled in me the values of resilience and determination—to work keeping my head down and my heart soaring.

Along my journey, I have been fortunate to encounter exceptional mentors within the industry. Their guidance and unwavering support have been invaluable. Without them, my path would have been far more challenging. Their presence serves as a reminder that none of us walk this path alone. Together, we can defy boundaries, challenge biases, and inspire lasting change.

Today, as The Smiling Strategist, I stand as a testament to the fact that nothing is impossible and no obstacle can impede our progress when we set our minds to it. I encourage each and every one of you to surround yourselves with like-minded individuals who uplift and inspire. Tune out the noise of doubt and negativity. The power to redefine our industry lies within us. Let us forge ahead, breaking barriers, and creating an inclusive, vibrant landscape that celebrates the rich tapestry of diversity. Together, we can inspire a future where every voice is heard, respected, and cherished.

Join me on this journey, and let us be the catalysts of change, for the industry and the world. With an unwavering commitment to equality, I believe that we can shape a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.


Photo: Elena Raga