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Zoom on Rizwana Tahiri, from SAP technical consulting to leading global tax technology projects in the Middle East

To raise more awareness on the profession, we decided to launch a series of interviews focusing on women in tax technology.

It is with great pleasure we welcome Rizwana Tahiri. Rizwana is experienced in handling end to end Finance Transformation, implementations, roll outs and support projects. She played a pivotal role in setting up a streamlined VAT compliance function in PwC Middle East. She is experienced in managing and delivering end to end Advisory, Implementation and tax technology enabled compliance initiatives across jurisdictions.

This inspiring woman shares about her career, diversity in the workplace, balance between work and personal life and provides advice for new starters in tax technology.

Rizwana Tahiri

For those who do not know you, can you introduce yourself?

Hello everyone! My name is Rizwana Tahiri and I am a Senior Manager in the Tax Technology and Transformation practice at EY, Dubai. I live in Dubai with my husband, Hamdan and five-year old son Zayaan.

Being, an engineer by background, I started my career about 11 years ago as a SAP techno-functional consultant, developing ABAP codes for the clients. I was fortunate enough to work on some leading initiatives in the early part of my career, the major one being business transformation of a multi-billion-dollar petrochemical giant in India. It not only provided me exposure to multiple modules within SAP, and but also helped me become well versed with underlying system architecture and coding. Then came the next breakthrough in my journey with the launch of GST in of India – regarded as one of the most complex indirect tax systems in the world. Working on end to end GST implementations, starting from requirements gathering, system design and implementation across systems for varied clients provided tremendous learning exposure not just on the technology front but also on the tax technical side. And post that, I leveraged my GST experience to enhance my knowledge beyond India. The next turning point in my career came in with the launch of VAT in the UAE and GCC countries. I helped multiple businesses in the region with their VAT implementation. Over the period, with enhanced regional experience and understanding of the local business nuances, I have also managed to pick up assignments related to strategic finance transformation for some leading clients in addition to tax technology advisory. This, in a nutshell is my journey to the tax technology world, how I could effectively juxtapose and integrate my systems knowledge on the “Technology” front with the tax technical and business advisory skills on the “Tax” front to transform into a tax technology professional.

I often get asked whether you need a tax or an IT background to get into tax technology roles and my answer often depends on the role itself. Your background is a good example of how you can develop your skills into tax technology coming from an IT background which is not the main mainstream. Why did you choose to specialize in Tax Technology?

I must admit I fell into this. This is going back some years now. I had decided to move on in my career as a SAP technical consultant when by chance I got the opportunity to work on Tax procedure migration followed by multiple tax implementations in SAP as a SME during my tenure at PwC. I thoroughly enjoyed the blend of business, technology and innovation. There was no looking back then. To be honest, in the waves of change, I found my true direction.

I often get the same answer from interviewees, I think this is due to the fact the industry is niche and still unknown from the outsiders, that is changing though. Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?

I have been lucky enough to be surrounded with a lot of successful women colleagues whom I now call friends. Although, in the wider tax technology world, I do not see a lot of us. However, with the ongoing gender diversity campaigns across geographies and growing awareness about the subject area, I am very optimistic that the participation of women in the tax technology area is poised to grow.

Rizwana home office and Zayaan, her junior tax technologist in the making

What do you think women should do to get into leadership roles?

There are a couple of things that we should be doing more to achieve the leadership roles we aspire for:

Be risk takers – Statistics show that women are less willing to take risks than men. According to me, we should challenge our inner self, expand our risk appetite and step outside the comfort zone. It is very important to acknowledge the fear of the unknown and embrace it. Leaving our comfort zone can pave the way to new opportunities. There is nothing to lose. If it works out – it’s an achievement, if not – it’s an experience.

Be life-long learners – It is very important to upgrade ourselves with time. As women with personal responsibilities, this might get overwhelming and might take a back seat. But we should continuously push ourselves to rekindle the old flame. We are living in a dynamically changing skills-based society. Unlearning old techniques and learning the new ones have become game changers. We can go a long way and maintain our worth by being lifelong students.  

Those are very relevant points, what do you think could be done for more women to get access to tax technology jobs?

We all know that tax technology is a niche area. Leading by example can play an important role here. Increasing awareness, dedicated social media campaigns (like these, wink), professional networks led by successful women tax technologists could really help bridge the gap. It is a top-down approach and organizations can promote women by creating a culture of “Conscious Inclusion” – Lead, think and act with the conscious intent of including everyone.

Do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with family life?

I think tax technology is no different. It is as demanding as any other field when it comes to work-life balance. Balancing is an art. Often as a family person and more so as a working mother, I tend to feel overwhelmed. Creating boundaries, managing priorities, and organizing time might help in theory. But the ground reality is to embrace the fact that “You just can’t have it all”. The moment we accept this, we at least come to terms with the facts and try to create the work-life balance we thrive for.

Who has inspired or mentored you in your career?

I have been fortunate enough to work with some top practitioners in the field of tax technology and consulting. This includes my leaders who supported me and acted as a great guiding force throughout the journey, my colleagues who challenged, supported and complimented me from time to time, my demanding clients who pushed to bring the best out of me and my better half who motivated me at every step of my career. I appreciate all those who have mentored me to shape into the professional I am today. To name a few – Hamdan Ali, my husband, Prasad Bhawalkar, my manager at Datamatics, Santanu Saha, my people manager at PwC, Mehrdad Talaifar, my counselor at EY.

The advice and guidance that I have received from them has helped me grow both personally and professionally. One of the great advice that has resonated with me over the years is ‘Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life’.

That is true and often gets forgotten when we get busy. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?

As we transition into the new normal, it is becoming even more evident that “Tax can’t transform without technology”. The evolving tax landscape, the growing digital tax administration trends, the efforts by Government authorities on curbing the growth of a shadow economy, the emphasis on real-time reporting is contributing to the increased focus on automation in the Tax world. Overall, there has been a paradigm shift from e-file to e-assess with an increased number of jurisdictions joining the race. In fact, the current pandemic situation has only accelerated the transition.

From our end at CBO Search, we never had so many applicants for our tax technology jobs, as there is more awareness around tax technology, the industry is fast evolving. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?

Tax technology is the glue that binds the business and IT teams together. For someone who aspires to join this field, I would highly recommend playing the role of a trusted business advisor. Suggest multiple approaches, options and solutions with a fair evaluation of pros and cons. Be empathetic, understand the bigger picture, and make recommendations that help future-proof the tax function. Since, we act as an intermediary, it is our moral responsibility to interpret the business requirements correctly and translate it in a language that is understood by both IT and business.

How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?

There are two sides of a coin. I must confess that in the beginning it was overwhelming but as time has progressed, I have got accustomed to it. One of the challenges initially was setting up dedicated workspaces and seamless internet connectivity throughout the day for all of us. My son’ s school assignments and synchronous online sessions added to it. As we juggle through our responsibilities, the only silver lining was increased productivity with some ‘me’ time to finish deliverables. Just staying away from the hustle-bustle of in-person meetings helped on some occasions. However, I still miss the typical office day, dressing up, attending face to face meetings in a conference room, coffee breaks and the short corridor catch-ups.

Rizwana and Zayaan on a staycation in the UAE

Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it?

Currently, we are still working from home. We plan to move to a new office building in a month’s time but that would also be a phased approach with reduced capacity. The priority is on keeping people safe with focus on personal preferences and comfort level with social distancing.

We hear how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and life balance to strengthen the immune system, is this something you have time for?

For those who know me, they would agree that I am not very good at it. I am not very good at creating boundaries so there have been occasions where I have been on back to back calls all throughout the day, leaving very little time to focus on lifestyle. I do try to be disciplined when it comes to sleep timings, hitting the gym 5 days a week even if it is while attending the morning stand-up call.

When it comes to family time, I try to make up for it over the weekend. Be it assisting my son with his Seesaw activities, cooking a special family meal or stocking up the house with groceries I try to fit in all over the two days. Sometimes, weekends are more tiring than weekdays that way (wink).

Thank you Rizwana for sharing about your career path, how your role at PwC with the SAP techno-functional skillset has been the turning point in your career and have led you to open the tax technology pandora box. I also enjoyed your suggestions on how to get more women in tax technology roles and in leadership positions.

Are you a Tax Technologist? We would love to hear from you and share your story with our global tax network, for more info, please contact Candice Bordeaux at cbordeaux@cbosearch.com

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