Making a difference with Sawsan Howard

It's hard not to notice Sawsan Howard; her presence is unmistakable. She's confident, warm and clearly intelligent – the kind of person that immediately garners respect. But all that shouldn't come as a surprise. As the Head of Corporate Affairs for Australian Super, Sawsan has a considerable amount of practical knowledge under her belt, through both her education and her varied professional experience.

Sawsan Howard's resume is one to be envied, boasting several undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including both an MBA and Juris Doctor from RMIT. However, her career progression is just as impressive; she's worked with notable companies across several industries including the dairy and energy sectors – it's clear she's never let herself be pigeonholed.

"[People] have many careers ... I've reinvented myself a few times ... But I don't think I could do my [current] job without the Juris Doctor," says Sawsan. "I've found applying the rigour of strategic thinking and being able to use that has helped me a lot."

At present Sawsan is the Head of Corporate Affairs for Australian Super with five specific departments under her management: policy and advocacy, external affairs, corporate relations, internal communications, and investor relations. It's a long title for a large job, but Sawsan herself doesn't seem fazed by the scope – more like she thrives on it.

Walking around the Australian Super office it's clear that the company really cares about its employees. Multi-faith and multi-use rooms abound as well as plenty of different areas (some with beanbags) to work in or hold brainstorming sessions. "It's a great culture. We exist to provide our members with their best retirement outcome and that whole unity really clarifies what we do ... and we all really buy into that," explains Sawsan. "We have a very focused social compass."

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One notable aspect of the space are the meeting rooms named for Australian rivers that also acknowledge their traditional Indigenous Australian names as well, as providing information about the meaning and history behind the locations. It's clear that diversity and inclusivity are a priority for Australian Super, and that's reflected in the fact that they have the highest amount of Indigenous Australian members of any fund in the country.

For Sawson herself this inclusivity is especially important, particularly in her position heading up the policy and advocacy department; in fact, right now Sawsan and her team are lobbying to have the preservation age lowered for Indigenous people to reflect the difference in their life expectancies compared to that of non-Indigenous Australians. 

"Sixty-five per cent of Aboriginal males die before they reach the retirement age of 65–67 ... but they can't access their super before then," explains Sawsan. "It doesn't make sense ... in the past the law has recognised the difference between men and women in superannuation so why don't they recognise this? We're hoping that the money the government would have to spend on this, well ... they either spend it on this or better yet they actually fix the problem."

"The policy and advocacy work is definitely one of my favourite parts of my job ... when I retire I never want to retire my mind; I love the thought of practising human rights law pro bono, helping people who just want to be reunited with their families or are stuck in detention centres ... people who have had a tough time in the system." 

We recently headed down to Australian Super to chat further with Sawsan about her thoughts on changing careers, the future of work and how culture can have a significant impact on productivity.

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Sawsan Howard completed the RMIT Master of Business Administration and the RMIT Juris Doctor.

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"Don't be motivated by fear" - Sawsan Howard.