Celebrating our STARs on International Women's Day


RSM Canada, through its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, is supporting employee network groups to provide opportunities for professional development, networking, mentorship and volunteering. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked members of our STAR employee networking group (ENG), a group dedicated to advocating for women in the workplace, to highlight their career drivers and the support they have been receiving in the workplace and personally.

Observations from Vanessa Chan, senior tax manager and STAR ENG leader

Recently, I attended a tax conference for senior managers, directors, and partners. It was difficult not to notice the lack of females in the room, especially when it comes to Asian female leadership.

Though it’s no secret that our industry continues to lack female leadership and representation, I have been fortunate throughout my career to work alongside some powerful women. Women who have proved that it is possible to reach the top despite their gender. Women who have proved that it is possible to raise a family while pursuing their ambitions. Women who have proved that a maternity leave does not limit career growth.

However, it was at that conference that I realized that it is time to take the lessons that I have learned from these mentors and use them towards the next step of my career. It is time for me to not just look up to these women, but to empower others to strive towards their ambitions and career goals.

This is why I decided to co-lead the STAR ENG for RSM Canada. I am excited to highlight strong females and share their advice. I am excited to create programs and events to give women the tools that will help them advance their careers. I can only hope that our efforts will empower and inspire the next leaders of our firm, and if we all do our part, then maybe one day, half of the attendees at RSM’s tax conferences will be comprised of us and these women.

Advice from Honey Pagala, project coordinator, STAR ENG member and Family First ENG co-leader

I am currently one of the co-leads for RSM’s Employee Network Group 'Family First', one of the first employee network groups here in the Toronto office. While this is not necessarily ‘female-specific’, it is still an inspiring development opportunity. As a pioneer project coordinator, I am excited for the opportunities that this role will bring to my professional career. CDI and our ENGs were only recently introduced in Canada and although we are only officially launching our activities as of May, I have already been able to connect and collaborate with other leaders in the Employee Network Groups both in Canada and in the United States. Each connection fosters career growth and development opportunities by opening new channels that were previously unavailable to me. Once this venture is up and running, I anticipate continued career development and growth, including but not limited to leadership opportunities, further relationship building, communication and project-planning skills development.

Being in the administrative side of the business, there is a misconception that there is no room for advancement or growth. However, growth is a choice and a responsibility each individual must take in line with RSM’s Owning Your Future philosophy. My advice is to take the first step to talk: whether with your colleagues, your career advisors, managers, and partners. Two years ago, I did exactly that. I was given an opportunity and was able to step out of administration into the professional side of the business for over a year. This experience allowed me to discover new things about myself and that there are many opportunities available for everyone, if they are willing to learn, grow and develop their skills. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want to miss!

Insights from Stephanie Lusignan, senior associate and STAR ENG member

The driving force to pursue a career in accounting has always stemmed from being exposed to women in business, accounting and leadership roles. My mother is a CFO and from an early age, I have believed that women can pursue any job or profession. I knew I wanted to be part of an organization’s leadership team, where I can make the greatest contribution and have an impact for overall success. Having a strong female role model allowed me to see first-hand how the profession would allow me to achieve just that.

Following high school accounting courses and my university Bachelor of Commerce degree, I started to look at what impact women had on the profession. I saw women in business were able to move to higher levels of management if they held the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation. Since obtaining my CPA, I have reflected on the skills that it has allowed me to develop, such as complex and analytical thinking, especially being in audit – and how much of an impact the skills can make in companies and organizations. It became clear that these skills afford me the opportunity to find solutions, develop strategic plans and be part of the leadership team.  

The accounting profession is the backbone of any organization, no matter the size. Accounting allows women to become active in private businesses, public companies, non-profit organizations, where they can sit at the table with males as equals. The accounting profession has championed diversity; women have been a strong catalyst for this. Accounting is now an industry where there are strong female role models to inspire the next generation of female CPAs. I feel great pride in my work as I deliver insights to my clients’ management team to support their business objectives, and also in my internal work with my team to foster leadership skills and further my career.

Reflections from Shaweta Roopra, senior manager, STAR ENG member and Family First ENG co-lead

At age 5, a desire to own my personal calculator was my first motivation to pursue a career as a Chartered Professional Accountant. I come from an extended family of CPAs and at that young age all I wanted was my uncle's calculator to play with. My uncle, who had just received his designation, told me that if I wanted one of own, I had to become a chartered professional accountant to earn it. That innocent challenge lit a certain spark and pursuing a career as a CPA was always at the top of mind.

As I grew older, and coming from a traditional Indian family, I knew that pursuing a highly-regarded profession such as being an accountant would be expected of me. Looking back at my five-year old self, the other options were out of question - I did not like the idea of becoming an engineer, like my dad, as it involved working on construction sites in remote areas. I also do not have a strong heart to be a doctor. While I have always enjoyed having lively debates and am known as a very strong debater in my family (certainly when I debate with my husband), a career in law was not something that ever crossed my mind. However, the more engrained I have become in the accounting profession, the more I have realized that being an accountant in public practice has elements of being an engineer, doctor and lawyer all in one bundle:

  • It is a very interpersonal profession where you are always working with other highly-qualified and intellectual professionals resolving complex client situations, much like engineers do
  • You have the opportunity to make a difference everyday by teaching young professionals how to apply their academic knowledge in a professional setting and how to apply their professional judgment to real life situations, similar to what experienced doctors try and inculcate in young aspiring doctors
  • It is one of the only professions where you apply critical thinking and skepticism to everything you see, much like a lawyer
  • You get to use and improve your debating skills everyday - especially if you are in the professional standards group, like me, where we consistently interpret and debate new accounting rules.

Oh - and I also get to have my very own personal calculator!

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