Caught between two worlds
Alina was born in Ukraine to a Ukrainian mother and a Lebanese father. When she was two years old, her family moved to her father’s hometown in Lebanon. The country at that time was coming out of a tumultuous and violent civil war and was under foreign occupation.
Alina spent most of her childhood torn between two different cultures and sets of expectations, growing up with memories no child should have, but also seeing the possibilities of a different life through her mother’s eyes. Caught between two worlds, she felt like an outsider. “I wanted so badly to belong,” she recalls. “I was constantly switching from one set of expectations and rules to the other.”
Going against expectations
After graduating from high school, Alina made the first in a series of decisions that put her firmly on her own path. Her first stepping stone was the American University of Beirut, from which she graduated with a business degree. She then took an entry-level position in the tax department at a major accounting firm.
Ten years later, while working on a diligence project, she met a PwC partner and team, who invited her to join the firm. Alina was attracted by the growth opportunities offered: the possibility of working in different places, on different projects and in collaboration with a global team. In 2011, she became a senior tax manager at PwC Middle East.
Building keystone relationships
Once she joined PwC Middle East, Alina started building relationships that would end up being crucial to her future. Perhaps the most important of these was with the tax partner with whom she worked most closely, who quickly became an invaluable career mentor.
At this time, she was balancing her full-time job and taking care of her two young children. Her mentor helped her find a child-care centre closer to the Beirut PwC Middle East office. He also suggested she consider an Executive MBA program and ways in which she would be able to fit it in with her existing workload and family responsibilities. She ended up completing her Executive MBA at the École supérieure des affaires in Beirut.
As Alina’s eldest child grew older, she and her husband saw the limitations he was facing due to a medical condition. They decided to move to Canada, where they felt her son would not only receive better medical treatment, but also be more easily accepted and able to live a normal life.
Her relationships within PwC helped shape this next life milestone. “The mentors and allies I had at PwC were supportive and gave me great advice, helping me make the next move both professionally and personally.” They facilitated her transfer to Canada, and her mentor even helped her stay calm and put things in perspective when a bombing in Beirut nearly prevented her from attending her first interview with PwC Canada.
In 2014, she started at PwC Canada in Financial Services. But she faced a steep learning curve: “I wasn’t familiar with Canadian tax, and trusts and mutual funds were a new concept to me,” she explains. The firm and the Financial Services Tax team supported her as she completed the three-year CPA Canada In-Depth Tax Program and went through intensive on-the-job learning. She was later offered the opportunity to move into the M&A Tax practice and recently became a director on that team.
Paying it forward
Alina speaks highly of the opportunities she’s had at PwC Canada to work on different types of projects and with various clients. She also values the strong relationships she’s established with the people around her, including those she built through her participation in PwC Canada’s Women in Leadership (WiL) program.
This program gave her a chance to build connections with women from within and outside the firm and pushed her out of her comfort zone. For example, she used to be very uncomfortable with public speaking. But the women in her group made constructive suggestions and gave her opportunities to face her fears and present in smaller, safer circles.
Alina is actively looking for opportunities to pay forward some of the excellent and formative guidance she’s received so far. Through connections in the WiL program, she learned about ACCES Employment, which is a registered charitable organization that supports over 40,000 job seekers every year across the Greater Toronto Area and online. Alina has volunteered her time to support this program. Through it, she’s had a platform to share her experiences as a newcomer to Canada with other newcomers looking to establish their careers here and upskill themselves for the future world of work.
A place where she belongs
Alina has now been with PwC Canada for over seven years. Her son has grown into a confident and outspoken teenager. She works with a fantastic team and is proud of helping make PwC Canada a place where she and others feel a sense of belonging.
“What I really like about the firm is that it’s a place where I can be my genuine self. I can share my story without worrying about being judged,” she says.