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Shailja Patel, Senior Director, Private Client Individual Tax Services, Toronto

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

QUESTION - First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.

Being a woman is one of the hardest things to do! And yet we do it every day with grace and dignity – and that to me is one of the most empowering of feelings! A woman who is comfortable in her own skin is the one of the most powerful things.

Being raised in a very modern Indian family where girls were given equal or higher status than boys in the family, it was a real eye-opener to see that the real world still has glass ceilings and walls. It was a shock to see and face real struggles, but I always had support from my family – they always made sure I understood that I had no reason to complain or fall apart and the nothing will ever hold me back except my fears.

As most of you know, I am petite – always had to be the frontbencher even if I did not relish the thought of doing so. During my high school years, I was made the captain of the girls volleyball team mostly by default – no one else wanted the job. Our coach kept pushing me to serve although I was not confident I could do it being that I was so tiny compared to the rest of the team. Long story short, my coach, who was also an English Lit major, quoted Shakespeare to me – I will never forget the words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream –“Though she be but little, she is fierce!!” Always remember you can do anything you set your mind to…I ended up becoming one of the strongest volleyball players in our school and my serve was feared. I believe this game was the turning point for me and has shaped who I am today to a great extent.

QUESTION - What does March 8th mean for you?

To be perfectly honest, to me not just March 8th but every day is and rightfully should be Women’s Day!

March 8th means celebrating the achievements of women, a call for positive change advancing women. This year – March 8, 2023, the campaign theme is #EmbraceEquity – making the year 2023 more special!

Equity – very different from equality – equity is all about creating an inclusive world. Equity accounts for diversity. Equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful – creating a level playing field. It is not giving everyone the exact same thing. If we give everyone the exact same thing, expecting that will make people equal, it assumes that everyone started out in the same place - and this could be vastly inaccurate because everyone isn't the same.

QUESTION - What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?

I am a clinical psychologist by education. I am not an accountant – I don’t think I ever dreamt of being one – I simply could not wrap my head around T accounts. By a strange stroke of fate, I took a tax course more than 30 years ago just so I had a better understanding of what I was signing each year in April. I ended up loving it so much that I decided to make it my career - initially a part-time career only for tax season because my daughter was little, and my life revolved around her (it still does). Here I am going into my 30th tax season still loving what I do. I firmly believe that you have to love what you do and do what you love! Work does not feel like work if you really love it.

If I must impart any words of wisdom, they would be exactly what I have told my daughter every day of her life - don’t ever let anyone determine your worth! Never let anyone undermine your confidence. But understand the fine line of difference between confidence and cockiness. Be confident without being cocky.

QUESTION - Tell us about your Role and Service Line at Trowbridge Professional Corporation.

Private Client Services (PCS) team at Trowbridge is the largest team in the firm with over 75 employees spread out around the globe including our Client Experience (CE) team. Our team focuses mainly on cross-border US/CDN/UK tax compliance and consulting for high-net-worth individual clients.

As our private client service practice has five locations around the world and the team is interdependent, it is important for us to ensure we build connections and increase communication which helps manage the projects effectively and efficiently. Having a global team gives us a competitive advantage. As a firm, we realize that just a good global strategy is not enough, it must be convertible. Our focus must be on ensuring the operational success of our global model. This is a difficult task and a challenge – it could be something as trivial as a team member in India working on a file for a senior manager in Vancouver – a 13.5-hour time difference.

My role as a global Private Client Services team leader at Trowbridge is one of the most challenging yet rewarding roles - challenging in its complexities of dealing with various individual personalities, cultures, and time zones, building trust and connections across the global team, and ensuring operational success. Rewarding in the interactions with various team members, the satisfaction of helping others achieve their career goals, watching them grow and flourish and the firm grow as well. Love and admiration are the best and the biggest rewards.

I want to leave you with one of my favourite quotes by Maya Angelou –

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

So ladies be a phoenix and rise stronger each time life tries to knock you down.

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