“Inclusion is so important to me because I know how it felt to not be included” – Meet WXN member Haritha Murthy
Haritha Murthy’s journey has taken her across five countries and three continents – India, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. She’s earned her FCCA and CPA and holds the title of Senior Manager, Canadian Banking Financial Control, with RBC, but she’s also a “closet journalist” and an active volunteer who bakes a mean banana bread!
Get to know Haritha as she talks about a life of travel, what she loves to write, how she rebounded from her lowest point by hitting one of her highest, and why the “X” in WXN means setting an example for others.
WXN: What has living all over the world been like?
Haritha: I've always had this identity crisis, where if someone asks where I’m from, it's very hard to say. I always default to Dubai, but I look Indian. I speak with an Indian accent with a British or American lilt. So, who am I? Where am I truly from?
I was a fish out of water when I first moved to the U.S. It was a shocker, coming from a heavily Eastern philosophy, but I’ve come to love living in different countries because it's a different feeling to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle, culture and people, as opposed to spending a couple of days and leaving. That's something I’ve enjoyed through this journey of moving around, being able to resonate with so many different cultures.
WXN: How did you get started as both a CPA and a writer?
Haritha: I’ve been writing poetry since grade seven - one of my first poems is about a pearl from an oyster! My mom has a book of my old poems, and she'll occasionally send me photos from it, asking "Do you remember this?" I silently ask myself, "What was I thinking?!"
I took up accounting because I come from a family of accountants, including my dad who I have always looked up to. Journalism was an option I never explored because of the Indian philosophy and upbringing where certain professions are put on a higher pedestal. I did my FCCA in the U.K., CPA from the U.S., and worked for EY and Deloitte, but my passion for writing never died.
WXN: You also host a podcast for Ascend Canada. What’s that like?
Haritha: In one word: thrilling. I used to be afraid to reach out to people – you know, the cold email. Now I'm not. I have a genuine reason to reach out because I'm inspired and I want to know more about their story. Everything from reaching out to coming up with a topic, brainstorming ideas, drafting it, putting some speaking notes together, and then recording and launching… the whole experience is end-to-end creativity and my passion for writing, all mingled together.
WXN: Across all those cities and continents, what’s been your biggest challenge?
Haritha: When I started off at EY UAE, I was a top performer, getting double-promoted and on cloud nine of my career. When I moved to EY US, I went in with the same confidence, but I was in for a shock. Everything was so much more intense – the regulations were heavier and we pulled in 80, 90 hours a week sometimes. The new country, new city, minus 40 degree temperatures, abundant traveling and lack of belonging led to depression. I started underperforming and was asked to be put on a Performance Improvement Plan. That was one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life: to know that, oh boy, I can actually fail.
I was at an all-time low where I felt that I was good for nothing. So, I left. I took two years off to self-reflect. That's when writing came back to me, and I found my love for volunteering.
WXN: What did you do next?
Haritha: I could only do pro-bono work due to visa restrictions, which was a blessing in disguise because I found opportunities to work with my local community. The most impactful experience I've had was while volunteering with the Pan-African Association, a small non-profit that helped refugees from Africa and South Asia settle in Chicago. One of the things I did there was help refugees with their citizenship test. This one refugee had failed her citizenship test about eight times because English was new to her. It was heartbreaking because she had two children back home in Africa and she didn't know if they were alive or not. She needed her citizenship to even get out of the country.
I took it upon myself to help her pass the test. And she did. When I heard the news, I literally broke down because that was the most rewarding experience I've ever had, just to know that she could finally go find her family. I was a small instrument in that. That's also when I realized that I do have something to offer; my diminished self-worth and confidence went up.
WXN: You mentioned that writing came back to you as well. What did you write?
Haritha: I started looking for inspiration everywhere. In those dark moments in my life, I started a blog something like the Humans of New York. I was looking for people who had treaded the untrodden path. I started writing about people I came across, who were true to themselves and followed their passion. Sharing each other’s stories, I found a new love for storytelling and realized everyone has incredible experiences that make them who they are.
WXN: What’s the biggest lesson you learned during that experience?
Haritha: I realized the value of self-worth and self-love. You're bound to have ups and downs in life, but you will overcome it. All I had to do was look deep inside and tap into what I brought to the table. I had been going with the flow: if everyone did X, I also wanted to do X. But I never thought: hey, I've got Y, too. I realize that now, being a huge advocate about diversity and inclusion. I now encourage people to bring their Y to the table.
WXN: What are you learning these days?
Haritha: Inclusion is a new concept to me, having moved to Canada, but it has been a very strong value that I admire and I want to build in everything I do. That's why I'm a member and ally of RBC’s CFO Pride Committee. I mentor new immigrants and professionals within the BIPOC community. I have friends who identify as persons with disability.
For me, inclusion is so important because I know how it felt to be not included. I've been attending in-house training, webinars, panel discussions, anything that can help me move the dial on inclusion. RBC even has its own hashtag, #speakupforinclusion, which is something I really live by.
WXN: Looking back on your experience, and now as a member of WXN, what does the X mean to you?
Haritha: We're constantly surrounded by examples of bravery, confidence, creativity, resiliency and curiosity in our lives. We’re learning from examples that have been set before us, and we’re also setting examples for those around us. For me, X really means “example.” The WXN community is setting an example for everybody around them and for future generations. I hope to learn from and build on the examples of others in the community, so I can be an example myself.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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Haritha Murthy – Senior Manager, P&CB Financial Control, RBC
Haritha Murthy is a Senior Manager in RBC’s Controller group, advising the business on financial risk, process improvements, contract negotiations and SOX compliance. She has lived in multiple countries (India, UAE, UK, USA) before immigrating to Canada in 2016. As a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion, Haritha volunteers her time with Ascend Canada, TRIEC and various committees within RBC, including the CFO Pride Committee. Outside of work, Haritha loves to bake, sing and blog.