Today is International Womens day. An opportunity to put the spotlight on forging inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and where achievements are celebrated. A unique opportunity to interview you both about your first experiences as female leaders and Co-CEOs of Inuka.
Robin, you are the founder of Inuka and initiated the co-CEO ship. In a nutshell, what was the driver to change the leadership of Inuka?
Robin: The trigger was me becoming a first-time mother and wanting quality time with my son and family, while my ‘first baby’ Inuka was growing fast. It wasn’t possible for me to give everything the attention and focus I wanted, which led to me considering a co-CEO construction. However, the decision was made for a different reason. It allowed us to bring on board a heavyweight with the experience, skills and passion for significant impact that would be hard to get otherwise. We’ve been working together for a few months, but already I wish I had thought of this construction earlier, it’s such a powerful way to run a complex business that needs many different capabilities and really supports boosting Inuka to the next level.
You are implying that –with maturing of companies- founders often evolve to CEO. How was it for you to realize that for having success you would need an additional skill set and expertise?
Oh I actually love it! I´ve always loved to learn new skills and develop myself in many ways, and so this fits me well. Also, because I had the opportunity to grow into my role it helped. And my mentor Maarten van Herpen (my former manager at Philips, and now venture advisor of Inuka) always told me that there would come a point that I would have to hand over to someone more fitting with the CEO role. Because my core skills are building something new from scratch, once it becomes more stable, I’m not fit for the role anymore. So, with that in mind I‘m very relaxed: I‘ll take it as far as it fits me, and then I’m ready to hand over. Particularly if we have awesome people like Anoushka on board to hand over to!
With this management structure you are not only figuring in the frontlines of well-being innovation, but Inuka is also the only female led company in your business, how does that feel?
I guess I’m supposed to say great here? But honestly no, I’ve never cared much for the fact that I’m a woman, I just want to do great stuff that makes this world better for people and my focus is fully on that. I am however proud that we can set such a good example. Change is dearly needed to make it more normal that women are in leadership positions, and with flexible solutions to make it work for them.
Anoushka, you’re now 90+ days into the co-CEO position. What is your impression of leading Inuka, a B-corp social enterprise, on a mission to make mental wellbeing accessible for all?
As Co-CEO, it has been important for me to start in a sympathetic manner, listening, learning, and understanding. In this way, I can both strengthen Robin’s and the management team’s existing leadership, whilst learning where I can best add value, what Inuka’s core strengths are and what Inuka most needs to grow and flourish. My impressions are that Inuka really has gold in its hands! The combination of industry leading quality coaching, with a low-cost structure, and deep data insights on the root causes of stress in an organisation achieves a completely innovative solution that truly sets Inuka apart. Whilst the deep roots of our social mission and our research grounding ensure that we are and will always only ever do the right thing to drive groundbreaking system change through effective, proven solutions. Chasing social impact and not profits through meaningful and effective innovation – that’s something that makes me extremely excited!
Inuka is a relatively young, vibrant, ambitious company, transitioning to a scale up focused on global rollout. Can you describe your organisation structure and culture and especially, how you ensure equity within Inuka?
It’s very much like our values I would say: warmhearted, scientific/data-driven yet pragmatic and simple, and discovering. People are not afraid to make mistakes, and eager to learn and proactively take forward new ideas with very little hierarchy. Since at our core is our social mission ‘Everyone resilient, and everything is built around achieving this impact, it’s easy to get people from very different backgrounds and cultures together.
We have diverse international clients and coachees and we echo that diversity in our full team. We have super-talented team members from the UK, Netherlands, Turkey, Russia, Kenya, Belgium, Denmark, Iran, India, Africa and many more. We achieve equity through our flat, non-hierarchical structure, and we are moving towards all of our team having a stake in the ownership of Inuka, so that success of our clients and social mission, success for Inuka, and success of our team members, is synonymous.
Today on International Womens day, we are celebrating the inspiring women who go above and beyond every single day to make Inuka unique. Who would you like to put the spotlight on?
Every female colleague makes a spark, however in particular we would like to shine a light on Shruthi Abirami, our head of coaching. She started once as a shy volunteer who just arrived in the Netherlands with her husband from India, and we’ve been coaching her in her leadership skills and giving her lots of opportunities: she’s now leading the growing coaching team in her own authentic way, very effectively, and we see her continue to grow every day.
To conclude, Robin and Anoushka, is there any woman that has been a great inspiration for you in making you who you are right now?
Robin: So many! But cheesy and all, my Mum has been the most important one. She’s always had a 1000% faith in me, and supported me in all my crazy life-choices unconditionally. And I want to highlight her specifically because for most of her life she has been a fulltime housewife, taking care of us. And I feel the danger of the advocacy for women going into career is that we forget the value and hard work that goes into raising children too, and that we should support and value our fellow women who choose (and have the great opportunity to…) be a fulltime mum as much as those that choose career paths – or any path for that matter.
Anoushka: Yes, I agree so many! Perhaps we’re making a cliché here, but I would also look to my Mum. She has always been the driver of our family, ensuring that our education was prioritised. She is very driven and entrepreneurial, whilst also being 100% there to support my sister and me. She used to run her own tracksuit business in the 80s, later she successfully ran a large garden centre. After a burnout, she pivoted to leverage her amazing craft skills, and our family would be manning stands on craft shows around the country on weekends, selling her flower arrangements. She is incredible at re-invention. After a later career as a project manager and completing a business degree on the side, she is now retired, and in her leisure is a specialist snowdrop grower, with articles in leading horticulture magazines about their achievements. She has taught me the power of being able to achieve anything I dream of and following my talent and passion.
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