In this second instalment of the Juggle International Women’s Day series, we speak to Anouk Agussol — Founder and CEO of Unleashed, an ‘anti-consultancy’ that helps startups and scaleups grow through people and culture.
In our conversation, Anouk revealed fascinating, valuable insights on her lockdown life, diversity and good leadership, whilst also touching on the nitty-gritty of what inclusivity means in 2021. Even if you glean just a fraction of what was covered when we spoke, you’re in for a huge treat.
In your experience, what are the barriers to women being represented equally in boardrooms? Insufficiently inclusive recruitment?
Natural bias — everybody has bias. A group, even subconsciously, will always tend to hire those that look and act like them. Why? Because from an evolutionary perspective, that is how our brains feel most secure. But in today’s world, there is no excuse not to at least be aware of your biases and actively work against them.
There are other issues. If a woman has children and takes maternity leave, it can be wrongly perceived as an intentional ‘career break’ that men do not need to take, and therefore men are more committed. As a mother is then raising a child, men are more easily able to climb their career ladders.
In and of itself, that is fine. But sometimes as leaders, we forget that the skills that are picked up from raising a baby are transferable to the workplace. My patience and organisation have increased dramatically since I’ve had kids, for example. And if a woman decides not to have children, the perception tends to be that she likely will at some point, also leading to her being overlooked for progression. It’s a minefield.
What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
It needs to be inclusion-first; inclusion before diversity. You need inclusive practices, policies and culture for diversity to really thrive. Without inclusion, diversity is tokenistic and unsustainable.
D and I can also be a superpower — the more people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, opinions and expertise, the better a company will do long-term. At Unleashed, we intentionally look to hire people who add something that we don’t already have. It is super important to us.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have ever received?
‘Forgive yourself for being human. You don’t need to be superhuman all the time. We are not striving for perfection.’
When you are a mother and a founder, if you drop the ball on one thing you can feel like everything is spiralling out of control. It’s not! Women — the only way to do it all is by remembering you’re human and fuckups are normal.
Can you tell us about your current set-up and approach to flexibility?
Well, right now life is generally less flexible and I’ve needed to add homeschooling to my to-do list. I have two kids — one is 14 and severely dyslexic. The other is 7 and needs help as it is all online using a variety of platforms. The only way I can do it all is to focus on one thing at a time and say ‘no’ to a lot of meetings that I’d usually say ‘yes’ to.
I am starting work a little earlier and finishing a little later, plus getting loads done on a Saturday morning. I’m super lucky, however, as I have the most incredible team. Even though everyone has their own shit to deal with right now, the team have stepped up at work, so that the mums can step up at home. Without them, I’d be a crumbling mess, I guarantee it!
As a company, flexibility means everything to us. In fact, being flexible with everyone in a way that works for them, is the only ‘one size fits all’ approach that works. It starts from a position of trust and the right attitude — the team knows when they are most productive and when they thrive and we let them define that for themselves.
What advice would you give to your younger self knowing what you now know about juggling kids and work?
Travel more. Do the nomadic work thing. Work in every country you possibly can. Learn all the languages!
Are there any surprising upsides to lockdown?
I used to leave the house at 7 am and come back at 7 pm which led to a lot of mum guilt. But now, I have more time with the kids which they love. Admittedly, there are elements of peace and quiet on my commute that I miss, but it is great to be home for dinner and eat all together or to be able to go for a walk together in the day. That never happened before.
My eldest is learning the value of crafting a routine and learning more about himself through this, and my youngest is now a wiz on the computer. She has learned to do things at the age of 7 that no generation beforehand did. However, the kids are struggling with missing out on the social aspect of going to school and that is super hard for them.
Thanks again to Anouk for taking the time to speak with us! To read more from this IWD campaign, take a look at the first piece, featuring the inspiring Sallee Poinsette-Nash.