Cover Story

RSM Women with SASS

B2B Editor14 October 2016

RSM Women with SASS

RSM is a progressive and diverse firm of audit, tax and consulting experts with offices all over Australia and the world. As an integrated team, we share skills, insight and resources as well as a client centric approach that’s based on a deep understanding of our client’s business. This is how we empower our clients to move forward with confidence and realise their full potential. This is the power of being understood.

A local initiative being launched by RSM Australia called ‘Women with SASS’ (Strength, Ambition, Sophistication and Smarts) is creating a stir. It has been developed from the grassroots level and is aimed at empowering women to move forward with confidence, whether it be in business or government.

Probably the most universal challenge that women face in their professional life, is confidence – confidence in themselves, their own abilities and competencies. RSM want their clients, staff and members of Women with SASS to embrace their ambition and success and help others along the way.

RSM’s Women with SASS is a whole of firm approach to drive diversity of thought and ideas to bring better outcomes through the provision of networking opportunities.

Through quarterly networking events, RSM aims to spotlight and recognise role models and current leaders, promote clients and Canberra businesses and challenge and encourage work life balance and flexible work arrangement initiatives.

Jamie O’Rourke, National Chairman of RSM Australia says “whilst Women with SASS has started as a local initiative in Canberra we believe there is a broader applicability for initiatives like SASS across our Firm. A key strategic focus for our Executive Team is diversity and we will be investing in this area with a range of initiatives including this one”.

Frank Lo Pilato, Canberra Managing Partner says that, “When the Women with SASS proposal was put forward, it was something that our partnership group whole heartedly supported. RSM’s focus is firmly set on attracting, retaining and advancing women. We are conscious that gender balance is critical to any high performing business.”

“We as a firm are working hard to challenge gender bias by employing various strategies nationally. In these economic times organisations are forever being asked to do more with less, simultaneously innovating whilst building a workforce for the future. RSM sees gender equality, flexible work arrangements and diversity of thought as critical to becoming a service provider and employer of choice”

To officially launch Women with SASS, RSM are holding a launch event on 10 November 2016, with a panel of guest speakers such as – David Morrison AO, the 2016 Australian of the Year, Kate Carnell, Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and Louise Curtis, Owner of gift companies Lollypotz and Hamperesque.

RSM in Canberra is at the coal face of business growth in the marketplace, and in working closely with their clients, they understand the challenges that women face as they aspire to move forward in their careers. Apart from access to finance and funding, business women are often balancing primary carer responsibilities with work commitments. Women are often doing this alone and report on the lack of female mentorship and support from within their organisations.

Emily Bowd, Senior Manager in RSM’s Audit and Advisory Division, says that, “Since joining RSM, through various discussions with the partnership group and other wonderful women in the firm, the Women with SASS initiative was born. I have been truly humbled by not only the support, that the partnership group have shown towards this initiative, but also the passion behind the team of women who are working alongside me in turning this idea into a reality.”

“We believe that RSM’s Women with SASS will provide a platform to empower business women and women in government to move forward with confidence. We hope to use it to influence the discussion on diversity, within RSM, our community and in the industries and sectors participants operate. We are incredibly excited for what is to come'” says Emily.

It is easy to see why gender diversity continues to keep boards up at night.

According to Workplace Gender Equality Agency August 2016 statistics at a glance, women hold 14.2% of chair positions, 23.6% of directorships, as well as represent 15.4% of CEOs and 27.4% of key management personnel in Agency reporting organisations. One-quarter (25.1%) of Agency reporting organisations have no key management personnel who are women. The average superannuation balances for women at retirement are 52.8% less than those for men. Whilst the winds of change may be in motion with the Australian Institute for Company Directors (AICD) revealing that women account for 40.0% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in January 2016, there is still a lot of work to be done. The AICD has set a target for all boards to ensure that at least 30 per cent of their directors are female by 2018.

According to the Australian Bureau Statistics, 30 per cent of small businesses are owned by women in our country’s capital. Women make up 39 per cent of sole traders. These numbers are growing. In some industries and sectors in Canberra, such as community services, Partnerthere is a shift towards female executives and board representatives, however in other areas, female representation is lagging significantly.

Professional services firms have struggled in recent years with diversity and equality, with a large proportion of senior leaders, whether they be partners, directors, or principals dominated by white middle aged men. The larger firms have been putting work into ensuring that there is more diverse memberships in their partner and executive groups through various strategies which is having some success.

RSM want to take these initiatives one step further – in addition to focusing on internal drivers such as providing flexible work arrangements, RSM is investing in our local communities to empower women to break down these invisible barriers and helping them achieve all they can.

RSM intends on providing tailored support to women in business including financial advice, coaching, mentoring and workshops as well as connecting with local communities and charities to drive innovation.

Stay tuned for more on RSM’s Women with SASS initiative as it evolves.

Emily Bowd


Emily is a Senior Manager in Risk Advisory Services with a specialisation in Internal Audit and Assurance Services. After moving to London and traveling through the Middle East and Europe, Emily returned to Canberra with a renewed passion for all things assurance. “Moving overseas was a big part of my five year plan after leaving high school, along with completing University, gaining a graduate position, and completing the chartered accountants program. What it really gave me was an opportunity to determine what I wanted to be and where I wanted to be.”
“I came back to Canberra with not only more confidence but also a drive to make a difference.”
Deep down Emily prides herself on being passionate, honest and authentic. She strives to bring diversity of thought to everything she undertakes. Having spent over 11 years in professional services firms there is one thing that sticks out in her career, that being the lack of senior women in leadership positions.
“Understanding that need for diversity, and not just gender diversity, is a complex challenge facing most organisations,” she believes these challenges can be faced through many avenues. “This was why we created Women with SASS, to empower our team and our local community to stand up and challenge the status quo.”
“I feel extremely lucky to have the amazing career and opportunities that I have. I would have never thought in a million years that I would be where I am today…. let alone where I will be in the future. With this in mind, I am passionate about providing the same opportunities to others, particularly other young women and country kids.”
“With RSM, I get the opportunity to work with, and in, my local community. Canberra has such an amazing diverse range of industries with people from various backgrounds.
“Outside of work, Emily is a keen water skier in the summer who enjoys travel adventures with her patient husband and values time spent with family and friends no matter where they are.

Jennifer Brennan


Jennifer has spent over 20 years in HR with a focus on professional services, she specialises in leadership development and is a qualified executive coach.
As National Director of Learning & Development at RSM, Jennifer has a unique opportunity to enact real organisational change through the professional development program the firm undertakes.
“My team work with the business to develop learning programs around technical, business, leadership and management skills. I am really proud of what we have been able to achieve and the recent recognition of everyone’s hard work by being awarded the winners of the Australian Accounting Awards Professional Development Program of the Year last year. We have again, been announced as a finalist for the 2016 awards with the winner being announced mid-October.”
Jennifer truly believes it is a privilege to do what she does. She is passionate about developing people and it gives her great satisfaction to see them realise and attain their career goals.
“I am particularly passionate about mentoring young women. Women with SASS will provide me with a forum to share my experiences with others but also, grow from their perspectives and stories. To spend time and find mutual support in and through likeminded strong and ambitious woman is a wonderful and exciting opportunity.”
On the weekends, Jen can usually be found outdoors, “I love to be active whether it is riding a bike, walking, hiking or going to the gym. I am a regular at the beach and enjoy water sports including scuba diving.” After recently returning from a trip to Hawaii, Jen had the opportunity to scuba dive over a WWII wreck and swim with turtles which she strongly recommends to anyone looking for adventure.
A dedicated supporter of worthy causes such as Snowy Hydro and Red Cross, Jennifer is a regular face at many of the local charity events.
“I have always loved a challenge! Whether it be a designing a new project or implementing a strategic initiative into a business.”
Jennifer’s philosophy is that one of the pillars to a successful business is well supported, developed and engaged employees.

Sally Colquhoun


Tax is an inevitable part of life. Fortunately, there are people like Sally who love to nut out the complexities of our tax system, thriving on helping clients get the best outcome possible. A relatively new starter with RSM, Sally brings over 10 years of accounting and tax experience to RSM from both Big 4 firms as well as smaller practices. She loves working with the Canberra business sector “Although I started my career working with large publicly listed companies in Sydney, I find that the diversity of the Canberra market provides a wider variety of work and gives me the opportunity to really make an meaningful impact to their growth and financial outcomes. It’s what keeps my job exciting.”

As a mother of five children, Sally can certainly empathise with other women and mothers who are striving for a successful career or business whilst having a family. She believes it is possible to achieve in both areas with the right support. “I hope that RSM’s Women with SASS group will offer a support network to women in business as well as provide some coaching and tools to help them be the best they can be.” The mantra of “doing your best in everything you do” is something that she strives for personally and hopes is one of the key messages she has taught her children.

Sally can also be found each morning at various gyms around Canberra instructing either Body Pump or RPM. “Although the 4.40am starts required to organise the house for the day can be a drag, I find that both the workout and the interaction with my classes gives me the real boost I need to fit so much into my day”.

Outside of work Sally likes to travel (yes, with her children in tow), having lived overseas twice, and in quite a few locations across Australia. “Canberra is home for us now and whilst I have met and worked with so many amazing people, I look forward to expanding my network through Women with SASS”.

Emma Molloy


With close to 10 years’ experience in professional services, Emma has developed a knack for humanising a corporate brand in the market place. While her background sits mostly with events, digital marketing is her passion. “The digital medium provides you with real-time feedback on what people are responding to and engaging with, which, as a marketer, is exactly what you need to know to drive business decisions.”

Emma gets a kick out of helping businesses convey their messages clearly, concisely and skillfully, allowing them to get on with what they do best.

Emma says “my work ethic has always been to work hard and get the job done right”.

Emma brings this vitality to her role within RSM’s Women with SASS group by ensuring the team’s thoughts are translated into meaningful action. “What I am looking forward to the most with Women with SASS is the opportunity to share and bounce ideas off other like-minded business women.”

When she is not busily maintaining her fitness regime which includes a mix of functional fitness, yoga and weekly “bridge to bridge” jogs, Emma can be found enjoying all Canberra has to offer with her family and friends.

Emma is a huge advocate for Canberra and the opportunities it provides and is very excited to see what growth and changes our City has in store for us during the next few years.

When time allows, she can also be found behind an easel or in an art room conjuring up an abstract creation. “While only a hobby, painting provides me with a creative outlet and is something I really enjoy. I do take a few commissions from time to time, which often challenges me to expand on my preferred or natural style.”

She has recently come across Amy Cuddy’s philosophy of “fake it ’til you become it” and hopes that Women with SASS will be a forum for empowering women with similar ideas.

Leah Furlan


Leah has worked in the financial industry for almost 20 years, she began when working for a local Physiotherapist using manual ledgers to complete their accounts. Since then Leah has developed a passion for financial planning. On top of being a single parent and working as a Para planner at RSM, Leah’s spare time is often spent studying for her degree in a Bachelor of Business, with a major in financial planning.

For years now Leah has had a keen interest in women’s wellbeing, she has been involved in organising events, women’s conferences and networking groups. “I just love it when women get together, whether it be for an event, to listen to a speaker or simply to share a cup of tea”

Having had personal experience in a domestic violence situation, Leah has a special interest in helping women in need. On completion of her degree, Leah plans on assisting women who have themselves, left a domestic violent situation get back on their feet through financial advice. “In such a difficult time, finances play a significant role as abusers tend to use finances as another means to exert control over women. I want to empower women to be in control of their own finances.”

Leah’s role within RSM’s Women with SASS group is strengthened by her passion for empowering women and her experience in event planning. “I am looking forward to working with other women in business to share ideas and come together as a group within the business community”

Leah is excited to see the opportunities for women in business grow in the Canberra region.

When she can, Leah will make it a priority to visit friends and simply enjoy a meal together and chat. “Connecting with my friends is a must, I would be lost without their support and friendship.”

Leah shares the belief that “we are stronger together than apart” and believes that Women with SASS through bringing like-minded business women together will empower women within the business community.

Alice Lee


After graduating from the Australian National University with a Bachelor of Laws and Commerce, Alice embarked on her graduate year with RSM in the Restructuring and Recovery team in 2014. Now as a Senior Analyst in the team, Alice assists with the implementation of insolvency solutions for small to medium enterprises and individuals with unmanageable personal liabilities. Alice says “I am passionate about working with my clients through what is usually a really tough time, and demystifying relevant areas of the corporate law which can be largely overwhelming.”

Alice recognises that it can be challenging for women to thrive particularly in the insolvency profession, being a largely male dominated arena. In many ways this further drives and motivates her ambition to achieve. However, she says “I am very fortunate to be part of a professional firm so focused and committed in empowering women in the workplace. Particularly within a male dominated leadership group, RSM’s Women with SASS initiative is all the more impressive.” She is optimistic that through the initiative she will be able to connect and work with other like-minded business women in an effort to promote and develop female talent identified within and outside of RSM.

Originally hailing from Auckland, Alice admits that Canberra life has truly grown on her. “Canberra has seen tremendous change even in the last seven years since I have moved here. With the constant additions of new restaurants and cafes, Canberra is also a bit of a foodie’s paradise.”

When not manically studying for the Chartered Accountants program, in the warmer months Alice enjoys frequent visits down the coast with her unruly Labrador Benji and slightly less unruly Fianc .

Despite the animosity that she may receive, Alice “will forever and always remain” a strong supporter for the almighty All Blacks.


If you would like more information on how to get more involved please contact Sally Colquhoun on 02 6217 0323 or email [email protected]
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