Roxana Tavana is Vice President & Head of Specialty Business Banking at Scotiabank. Prior to that Tavana was President & CEO, Managing Director and Head of Scotiatrust where she led a national team of 200 professionals. Prior to 2016, Roxana was Vice President and Head of Legal for Global Asset Management at Scotiabank having joined the bank via the DundeeWealth acquisition.
Roxana is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the e.p.i.c. school, a leading progressive school specializing in early education for children in the City of Toronto, and a Director of METRAC, an organization working with individuals, communities and institutions to change ideas, actions and policies in Canada to end violence against women and youth.
In honour of International Women's Day, we are celebrating five Torontonians who inspire us and who are each making a lasting impact in their own unique way.
Elle: What’s been your biggest adventure to date?
Roxana: Going through a divorce was my biggest adventure to date.
Elle: What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
Roxana: I learnt that we are enough, that each of us is enough. Before I went through that I was looking to people for validation or wanting to fit a specific mould. Then you go through something like that and some people will really stand up for you when it’s happening and it’s amazing the empathy and compassion you see. And then there are others who don’t and it’s really hard to see. And when I went through it at the end I realized that I was enough.
Elle: Who or what inspires you?
Roxana: My dad. Because what I see in him is a continued ability to persevere and yet to be kind along the way. He has a big tolerance and acceptance for the differences in people and for all kinds of people. I see what he has gone through in his life after the Iranian revolution. He was a qualified professional in the UK and in Iran and when the revolution happened he and my mom made a lot of sacrifices for me. It was stressful and there was pressure on us as a family but my dad made these sacrifices for us and persevered while always being kind to everybody.
Elle: What drives you?
Roxana: Excellence. I have difficulty sometimes accepting less than excellence, not just for myself but sometimes for people around me. I just think about the fact that my parents gave up a lot and it wasn’t just my father but my mom as well. They gave up a lot to bring us to Canada, to requalify and rebuild their life and to send me to the best schools so I could be my best. So, when I wake up in the morning I just can’t imagine not trying to be the best given what they did for me.
One of the things I have a hard time with is when I don’t see people around the table also wanting excellence. I am always working on that. I can’t comprehend why we wouldn’t want to be our best every day given the struggles in the world and what people are going through. Why not do our absolute best! So, when I am less than excellent during the day I am generally a little hard on myself.
Elle: One person living or dead you’d like to have a conversation with.
Roxana: My dad’s dad. He died when I was little after we came to Canada. He was a remarkable man, spoke several languages, was a renowned Petroleum engineer and most of all I would always hear that he was the kindest man. He was the patriarch of our family and an 8x10 photo of him was in our home entrance growing up. He was the person my father was most connected to and I could feel his departure on my father. I would like to sit across from my grandfather and look into his eyes, give him a hug and hear the sound of his voice.
Elle: First word that comes to your mind if I ask you to describe yourself.
Elle: What is your favorite word or phrase in Farsi?
Roxana: Its "Dastet Dard Nakone" which means ‘let your hand not hurt’. It’s something that Iranians say to each other as a form of thank you. It’s not an excessive form of thank you, it’s just a very natural thank you we would say to each other. The reason that I love it so much is it’s a symbol of the what true Iranian culture is which is taking care of people, loving each other, doing anything for each other.
So, when you say Daste Shoma Dard Nakone when someone gives you a cup of tea, picks you up or does something kind it’s our way of saying I hope you didn’t hurt your hand. It’s a beautiful and gracious thank you.
Elle: Finish this sentence, I know for sure...
Roxana: That I love my kids.
Elle: At Zvelle, we believe we are in the business of inspiring women to use their voice through fashion. What does using your voice mean to you?
Roxana: I’ll answer that in two parts, I believe in using your voice through fashion too and you don’t just have to be in a creative space to feel that way. At the end of the day it’s what we put on our bodies every day and walk out the door. It doesn’t need to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be expensive but it needs to feel right to you whatever that is.
Before joining a bank, I was working at a more entrepreneurial and less conservative firm. When I first made the transition, I started to change my fashion and the way I dressed. I tried to conform a little bit and I didn’t feel like myself. So, I would say that it is important that we feel ourselves every day. So, using your voice to me is all about authenticity.
The other thing about using our voice is that it’s really easy to get busy and forget about what’s really going on around us. I am guilty about that too but I think to the extent we can make a difference for someone else we should. It can be one person you mentor, it can be an organization you support or even someone you run into.
Photography: Mark Binks