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Congratulations! STAR announces 2020 Women’s History Month winners

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION  | 

Each year during the month of March (Women’s History Month), our STAR employee network group (ENG) shines a spotlight on exceptional women in our firm.

The spotlight winners, nominated by fellow STAR members and RSM owners, are chosen for exemplifying our firm values (respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence and stewardship) and our 5 C’s (courageous, curious, caring, collaborative, critical thinking). Check out this year’s featured women Jen Busse, Barbara Casulli, Katie Johnson, Mariah Kutenbach, Lynn Sedwick, Kristein Talia, Lauren Van Crey and Tiffany Williams-Child. 

And join us in congratulating these women as we wrap up Women’s History Month! 

Dara Castle
Washington DC Metropolitan and Market Leader, National Government Contracting Industry Leader and National Leader of RSM’s Women’s Initiative


Lynn Sedwick, Orlando, Florida

Tax partner

Time with the firm: Six years

What advice would you share with someone starting her career at RSM? Think of examples you may have relating to your own leadership development, the 5 C’s and/or being innovative.

Take risks, ask questions and embrace our 5 C’s. Each of the 5 C’s plays such an integral part in helping to define a successful career. By using the 5 C’s, you show empathy, take risks, learn more about others, use your skills and technical abilities and embrace teaming with others. Step out of your comfort zone – volunteer for engagements that will stretch you and push you to that next level. Embrace and learn from your mistakes. 

What are you doing, personally, to mentor other women in the firm and how does this impact your experience at RSM?

Mentoring other women is one of the best parts of my career. I have been honored to be heavily involved in our S3 and S4 (STAR Success Series for managers and supervisors) programs by both facilitating the S3 program for four years and working on both programs’ content development. Words cannot express how proud I am when I see some of my prior participants move along in their careers by getting promoted! I also mentor our local office women by (for example) taking them to lunch one-on-one. As the only female partner in my office, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet with our female staff in other LOBs. Being heavily involved in STAR and taking time to get to know the women in my office are just a few of the ways I mentor our women. I have learned so much from each of them – my interaction with our successful, driven and motivated female professionals helps keep me focused, attentive and reaching for the STARs. 

How have you leveraged the STAR employee network group and its leaders to further develop your career?

I have been blessed to work with our amazing regional and national STAR leaders, as well as members of the CLT and our CDI leadership team – each of these professionals has pushed me to be a better ambassador for our women. As a STAR ally, I have been honored to discuss women’s issues. Our leaders are extremely supportive of our women, STAR and all of our CDI initiatives. My career has been enriched by having these interactions. I would highly suggest that if you aren’t involved in an ENG, find one that resonates with you and get involved. You won’t be disappointed by the richness that CDI can bring to your personal and professional career and goals. Be YOU at RSM!

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most to you personally?

At the heart of all of our 5 C’s is being Courageous. You must be courageous to be caring, a critical thinker, collaborative and curious. Being courageous can be the hardest: You might be stepping out of your comfort zone or admitting to a mistake you’ve made. Regardless of the action, being courageous truly defines who you are and it is at the root core of the rest of our 5 C’s. Throughout my later career, I’ve made a point to be courageous – whether it was taking on a new role when I wasn’t quite sure I could do the job, taking ownership for a mistake I made or getting out into a new marketplace where I had no relationships. Being courageous can lead to amazing insights about who you are as a person and a professional.  

Katie Johnson, San Francisco, California

Audit partner

Time with the firm: 14 years

What are a few of the best steps you took to get where you are today? Describe any missteps and how they helped you grow professionally.

To take risks, follow my instincts and to put my trust in others. I’ve moved from Chicago to London to San Francisco and have had the opportunity to have several roles within the firm throughout my journey. Each time I made the decision to take on new role, I learned more about myself, our firm, our clients and our talent. Each choice I’ve made has given me a perspective that helps me understand how to be a better leader. Everyone can benefit from stepping out of your comfort zone and be on a path of continued learning. The second you think you have it all figured out is when you are taking steps backwards. There is always something to learn and sometimes you need to change your environment and be uncomfortable for a little bit – always makes you stronger.

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most to you personally?

Collaboration is how I manage risk, serve clients, develop talent, grow our business and maximize overall impact. I cannot imagine how I would manage my current responsibilities without collaborating daily with individuals from all around the firm. Being a part of a growing market comes with its own distinctive experiences and challenges. One of the greatest challenges is having limited peers within your industry and line of business who are right down the hall. I am deeply fortunate to have a network from my time in the Chicago office and from being an expat in London. When I need another perspective, I call my phone tree, which includes individuals across all lines of business from Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Denver, Boston, Birmingham, Blue Bell, Stamford and London. Our people in these offices are always willing to drop what they are doing and make time for me – no matter what the ask. They genuinely are invested in helping in any way they can and they extend their assistance to my team as well. This firm is filled with first-class people that have the best of intentions and for that I’m grateful.

Are you actively involved in other employee network groups in the firm? If so, which ones? Please provide any stories or experiences you’d like to share based on your CDI engagement.

I’m the CDI champion for the Bay area as well as the local STAR co-lead, local Generations co-lead and an active member in all ENGs. Being involved in CDI is by far the greatest experience that I’ve had at the firm. For me CDI is the alignment of our firm’s core values and my personal beliefs. When I joined the firm 14 years ago, I chose this firm over other offers that I had because the people I met. I felt a like-mindedness that has stayed with me throughout my career. When I first learned about CDI, it felt like an extension of the kindhearted nature of our people. Every time I go to an ENG event or conference, I learn something new that changes the way I see situations going forward. CDI helps me to see perspectives outside of my own. It teaches me how to adjust my leadership style and create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing a variety of different ideas or solutions. Diversity in thought is what allows any team or organization reach its full potential and I have seen a transformation in RSM and myself through CDI.

Barbara Casulli, New York City

Marketing senior director

Time with the firm: Eight years

What are a few of the best steps you took to get where you are today? Describe any missteps and how they helped you grow professionally.

Being open to the possibilities! I began my career in a regional bank in wealth management operations and haven’t looked back as I moved from a role responsible for systems conversions and daily account settlements and reconciliations to leading a marketing function at RSM and all that came in between. I did not have a specific career plan that I followed to chart this path. Rather, I was always open to opportunities. And I measured these against what I knew about myself. Over time I’ve come understand with more clarity on what inspires me and gets me excited about a role, and those things that drain my energy. This reflection and understanding have helped me to assess new challenges and keeps me focused when in the midst of them. For some, having a clearly articulated plan is important and is a driver to keep focus. If a plan causes you stress, forget it—take the time to understand what you love and what you don’t and then go forward using this knowledge to inform your choices.

Are you actively involved in other employee network groups in the firm? If so, which ones? Please provide any stories or experiences you’d like to share based on your CDI engagement.

Eighteen months ago, I was given the opportunity to join members of our Pride ENG at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, the preeminent gathering of employee resource group members, HR and diversity and inclusion professionals who work to create workplaces that are inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. I was awed by the passion, connectivity and warmth of our RSM attendees. My time with them and at the conference gave me an understanding of the absolute criticality of our employee network groups and the impact they have in the firm, on individuals and in the broader community. I came back committed to become more involved. I joined STAR and have been honored to facilitate our inaugural S3o program from ICS women and I remain a staunch ally for Pride. 

As you think of your personal brand and the traits of the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most to you personally?

It’s truly hard to select only one as I see each of these traits as highly interrelated. What I mean by this is that at times, it can take courage to show up with curiosity particularly when the questions that need to be asked may seem to challenge the status quo. When working to be collaborative, asking questions to get a better understanding of a colleague’s point of view can be a first step to building trust, which is essential for strong collaboration. I was on a call recently with a cross functional team, coming together for the first time to bring a project over the finish line with a very short time frame. The team spent 90% of the call hearing from the other business and me about our goals from the project, which translated to what we needed from them. Near the end of the call my colleague stopped and asked the team what they needed from us. I was stopped in my tracks and was reminded how important that simple question is. It showed that we were in this together (collaboration), that he cared about the impact this project would have on their team and it surfaced a critical piece of information that would enable all of us to move forward faster. I’m still learning and reminding myself every day how I can show up as a better leader by exemplifying these behaviors.

Tiffany Williams-Childs, Tacoma, Washington

Senior administrative assistant

Time with the firm: Four years

As a woman, what unique challenges have you encountered in your career and how have you addressed them?

As a woman, I have encountered many challenges within my career. Women are often overlooked but as an African American woman, this doubles. I have learned to work harder and be stronger than my counterparts. I have used every obstacle that has be set in front of me as a goal or challenge to be conquered. If someone says that I can’t then I take the necessary steps to prove to them that, yes, I can. I have learned never to be afraid to ask questions or to step up to take on a new project. All of this, I believe, has been an asset in my career.

Are you actively involved in other employee network groups in the firm? If so, which ones? Please provide any stories or experiences you’d like to share based on your CDI engagement.

I am currently involved in four ENGs—STAR, Pride, Family First and AACE. My involvement with AACE has just begun and was initiated by a conversation I had with Karen Reffner, the STAR Pacific Northwest lead, and also a partner for whom I am an administrative assistant. Our conversation, which was fueled by a discussion during the STAR-sponsored Women’s Leadership Meeting Recap, dealt with the challenges women face in the workplace. After speaking with Karen she encouraged me to get involved with AACE. I have now stepped into the role of PNW AACE lead and am finding myself refocused and reenergized about my future here at RSM.

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most to you personally?

As I think of my own personal brand and how the 5 C’s fit within it, the one that resonates most to me is Caring. Not only do I think I show that I care about the work I do, but I care about those I work with. So often people lose sight of the fact that each individual they work with is a person and has a separate and distinct personality. I try my best to get to know those I work with on a somewhat personal level so when I work directly with them I have more insight as to their needs and expectations. I care about the work I do because I believe anything I produce or have a hand in is a reflection on me. And I always want that reflection to be a positive one.

Mariah Kurtenbach, Omaha, Nebraska

Tax senior associate (recently transitioned to LPD)

Time with the firm: Three years

What are a few of the best steps you took to get where you are today? Describe any missteps and how they helped you grow professionally.

By far the best step I took to get to where I am now is staying true to who I am. Busy season provides a lot of opportunities to get lost in the work, which I definitely did my first year. After that that first busy season, I have made it a point to identify and stick to my “non-negotiables.” These are the things that I’m not willing to give up or skip during busy season. The people I work closely with know that on Thursdays always I leave early to go to bible study and I always disconnect at least one full day on the weekend. Making time for the things I care about most allows me to stay refreshed and in turn bring my best self to work. Another thing that has really helped me get to where I am today is clearly communicating what I want. I recently decided I wanted to make a change in my career at RSM. When I discussed this with my career advisor and leadership team they were more than willing to help in any way they could and provide the guidance I needed to make that a reality.

What are you doing, personally, to mentor other women in the firm and how does this impact your experience at RSM?

I recently started a women’s coffee group for the women our local office and in our community. The goal is to bring women together and create a space for self-discovery and mentorship. We gather twice a month and discuss a variety of topics. We are able to learn so much from each other’s wisdom and experiences. This has helped me to grow personally and professionally and learn ways that I can better support the women around me. It also provides a great group of women to reach out to for ideas and advice.

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most to you personally?

Caring is the “C” that I resonate with the most. I love learning about the people I work with and supporting and encouraging them in any way I can. Although the work we do is important, the people we work with are even more important. Every day we have a unique opportunity to care for the people we work alongside. I believe that when we lift each other up, we ourselves are lifted up in the process.

Lauren Van Crey, Chicago, Illinois

Tax supervisor

Time with the firm: Four years

What are a few of the best steps you took to get where you are today? Describe any missteps and how they helped you grow professionally.

Recognizing that part of my development involves considering thoughts and suggestions from others and that I would need to request constructive feedbachelped me grow professionally. Whether it’s formally requesting feedback through the feedback system or informally asking for suggestions on what I can do differently next time, both avenues have helped me get where I am today. This isn’t always an easy task, but doing so allows me to acknowledge the areas in which I can improve and overcome missteps I’ve made. Everyone makes missteps along the way; the important thing is how you address them.

What advice would you share with someone starting her career at RSM? Think of examples you may have relating to your own leadership development, the 5 C’s and/or being innovative.

Consistently work on your own development and do the best you can. It’s all right if you aren’t the best at something as long as you put in effort to grow professionally. Although you are responsible for your own development, others are there to help you—seek help when you need it, ask for feedback, acknowledge both your strengths and weaknesses and encourage others do the same. This sentiment goes both ways—help others, provide feedback and work together. Everyone has something different to bring to the table and by sharing your ideas and listening to the thoughts of others, you’ll likely accomplish more than you would on your own.

How has a mentor or sponsor helped your career?

People from all levels within the firm have knowingly and unknowingly shaped my career. I’ve encountered many people who have set great examples and following their lead has helped me navigate my own career. My first full-time job after college was with RSM. When I think back to my time as a first-year associate almost five years ago and compare that to today, I’ve grown in more ways than I could have imagined. I owe that to the people who have set great examples, encouraged me to take on tasks outside my comfort zone, taken the time to explain concepts I don’t understand, provided help when I needed it and lastly, those who have provided honest, constructive feedback.

Talia Kirstein, Los Angeles, California

Tax manager

Time with the firm: Five years

What advice would you share with someone starting her career at RSM? Think of examples you may have relating to your own leadership development, the 5 C’s and/or being innovative.

One piece of advice that I regularly give to our new hires and staff is to embrace unique challenges and become visible in our firm. Whether it’s Birdies Fore Love, joining your office’s planning committee or helping out with our FCAJ, it’s a great way to meet fellow professionals that you wouldn’t normally interact with in your line of business. Additionally, you get to learn about the work those professionals do and develop a deeper knowledge of the services RSM offers. With regards to the 5 C’s, you can more effectively collaborate with other lines of business when you have a better understanding of their services. I have quite a few clients and prospects that have been referred to our team through these connections!

How has a mentor or sponsor helped your career?

RSM’s recognition of the value of a mentor and career coach is forward-thinking and a significant benefit to our employees and the firm as a whole. One such sponsor who has invested his time and effort helping me advance in my career has been my west region credits and incentives leader, Principal Nick Avakian. Nick has constantly been a champion of each of the “extracurricular” activities I participate in, including my role as a Birdies Fore Love office champion, leading the LA STAR ENG and many more. Having a team leader who believes in you, encourages such activities and enables you to grow both professionally and personally has been vital to my career development at RSM. Thanks, Nick!

What are you doing, personally, to mentor other women in the firm and how does this impact your experience at RSM?

Being active in the STAR ENG provides me with a great opportunity to mentor the women in our firm. We have an amazing group of STAR members who are continuously looking for ways to reach out to our staff and our communities and are able to mentor with their own insights and experience. The members of our STAR ENG have definitely impacted my experience at RSM, and I am inspired by all of the ways they offer assistance and guidance to the employees at our firm. By dedicating my time to this group of rising individuals, I am hopefully able to impact their careers and lives as others have impacted mine.

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most with you personally?

While each of the 5 C’s resonates with me in their own way, the one that resonates most is Curious. Curiosity is what brought me to RSM, encouraged me to act as BFL champion, got me involved in CDI and office activities and aided in my professional development working with the research tax credit. I am continuously learning about new industries, new service lines and new ways to improve both professionally and personally.

Jen Busse, McLean, Virginia

Consulting director

Time with the firm: 13 years

As a woman, what unique challenges have you encountered in your career and how have you addressed them?

As a woman one unique challenge that you face is if you are direct and intense, it sometimes can be taken in the wrong context. I’m direct and I’m intense, but my goal is always to be a passionate, selfless leader.

What are a few of the best steps you took to get where you are today? Describe any missteps and how they helped you grow professionally.

How I got to where I am today is hard work, grit, tenacity and, above all, authentic relationships. You know your relationships are there when people seek opinions and perspective from you especially out of your realm of expertise. From day one in my career and for the last 13 years at RSM this has rung true. I take the time to be curious; I take the time to be collaborative; I take the time to listen to people because in all things, relationships matter. Whether you want advancement or to do better in your personal life or your job, the more connections you have with people the better off you will always be.

How has a mentor or sponsor helped your career?

I have a few mentors who have sponsored me because they champion my passion. They know how much I love this firm and they know that I will get it done. They allow me to be vulnerable and coach me from a place of true support and kindness and I know the intent is always good, even when the feedback can sometimes be challenging to hear. Truly being authentic means praising you in public and coaching you in private. This has impacted my success. 

I remember 10 years ago sitting in a room with Marni Rozen. While we talked about our careers and moving to consulting, we looked at each other and said what if this doesn’t work? Marni looked at me and said “it doesn’t matter; we’ll will fix it.” Since then I’ve said it’s not about the success or failure, it’s always about how you finish and the recovery. If you mess up or things don’t go as planned you tweak, you pivot and you try again. When we wanted to move to consulting if it weren’t for us pushing and a few select partners believing in us and helping us push, I don’t believe it would’ve gotten done.

I feel extremely grateful that I’ve had several roles here at RSM because of partners who believe in me and pushed on my behalf and because I’ve always had Marni at my side. We know we’re better together and we don’t let anyone stop us from being us. Through my friendship with Marni and several partners they’ve always allowed me to pivot and feel safe doing so.

I care so deeply about all of my friends, colleagues and clients, and I will do whatever I can to help them persevere.  Relationships matter most! I’ve truly embodied the Take One concept. Whether it’s a client meeting, a personal event, a business meal, a prospect—I never go alone. I truly showcase the value of others and realize we all have a strength to contribute. We win in life when we go together and we truly are caring and supportive. 

Lastly, you never take credit for somebody else’s work. You always say “we” and showcase everybody’s contributions—from administrative to associates to managers to clients. You win with we! Make time for people and take the time to listen to the facts and really understand. Never have a personal agenda! I do that with everyone I know. I will take the time to make sure I introduce and bring along others no matter the setting.

As you think of your personal brand and the 5 C’s, which of the C’s resonate the most with you personally?

The 5 C’s are really important to me and something I try to live with every day as a mother, wife, friend and teammate. I would say caring in all that you do and how you show up matters the most to me. Being caring costs nothing. It is totally free and that is amazing.

Be kind, be a leader and move purposefully. If you can do this through life to me this is invaluable. I’ve always worked extremely hard and feel my success will showcase between the people I sponsor, the people I promote and in my amazing three boys. I show up every day and contribute in a meaningful way personally and professionally. I am so grateful for all of my friends here at RSM—this truly is my family.


STAR

STAR

STAR advocates for women in the workplace with a focus on stewardship, teamwork, advancement and retention opportunities.