Discovering an Intersecting Identity
Rishi Agarwal (he/him), CPA, CA, currently works in digital health tech as the AVP Controller at League. Prior to joining League, he worked with BMO Financial Group and Capital One. Outside of work, Rishi has actively supported 2SLGBTQ+ organizations, including volunteering as Capital One’s LGBT Canada Network Lead and Toronto Pflag’s Treasurer.
Rishi recently spoke to us about his career, navigating his identities and how CPAs can use their skills to drive change.
What do you enjoy most about being a CPA?
I love having the skills to analyze the complexities in accounting. When you follow the money, you understand why people do certain things and you can explain the world around you in ways others can't. As a CPA, you’re constantly learning and adapting to different environments.
What opportunities have you been able to explore through the CPA designation?
The scope of what you can achieve in the profession is just massive. The CPA designation allows you to work in any industry, in a multitude of roles, and live life in a way that’s right for you. For example, when I pursued contract work, I was able to work and live in England and Spain. Accounting really opened a world of opportunities.
Having worked in a variety of different industries, what brought you to the healthcare industry?
I was intrigued by healthcare, but I always wanted to work in tech. In my previous roles, I learned a lot about technology functions, and how costing, allocation and project management works.
I’ve always craved a challenge, so when I was thinking of my next move it made sense to look at SaaS companies. Having been exposed to so many different systems, processes, team structures and company cultures throughout my career, I was able to apply those experiences to my current work environment.
What types of personal or professional challenges have you faced in your life or career?
Growing up in the 80s, Toronto wasn’t as diverse as it is today. Dealing with identity and racism was a challenge because I couldn’t fully identify as either Indian or Canadian. To Indians I was a foreigner, born and raised in Canada, but Canadians didn’t always consider me Canadian either.
Racism is multilayered and difficult to describe at the individual level. It doesn’t only exist in personal interactions—it’s also in the culture, community and news media you’re exposed to, a lot of which you internalize. It makes the struggle around identity that much more challenging.
As much as I identify as Canadian, Indian, Hindu and gay, I’m also a proud accountant. In some ways it’s the biggest part of my identity. Only when you see people fully for who they are can you start treating them with dignity and respect, something I learned from the many who helped me overcome my own struggles.
Was there a particular moment that impacted your relationship with your identity?
When I was in the closet, I had no self-esteem or confidence. So when I came out to my dad and he accepted me for who I was, it felt like a ton of bricks was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t have to carry that weight anymore. I no longer had to be two different people—or rather one person carrying another who is completely suppressed. Knowing that I had the love and acceptance of my family gave me the confidence to explore and be who I am and thrive both personally and professionally.
If my family had not accepted me, I don’t think I would have ever built this life for myself.
How can CPAs create a more inclusive future?
CPAs can tell stories from vast amounts of data and information, which makes them valuable to any organization. Whether it’s a charity, business, or a non-profit, organizations depend on our ability to critically analyze, strategize and implement. We can use those skills to help shine a light on the importance and value of inclusivity—whether that’s for the organizations we work at or for those we volunteer at—by putting our CPA skills to work.
My advice to any CPA is to find something you’re passionate about, start making a difference in a small way and the broader impact will take care of itself.
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