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leadership

Why an all-female leadership team helped Rufus & Coco achieve global success

I believe many women are torn as to their purpose: Am I mother? Am I an entrepreneur and bread winner? Culturally, women are not well supported to raise a family while maintaining and building their career. Too often I see women leave the workforce with the birth of their first child never to return with the same thrust to their career.

One study by Flexcareers found that more than half of Australian women have been discriminated against in the workplace for being a mum. One in four were forced to resign because their requests for flexible hours or duties was denied. If businesses can’t support women and mothers, they are missing out on the incredible value these women bring to an organisation.

When I launched global pet care brand Rufus & Coco in 2008 I was met with a lot of apprehension from friends and family. I’d grown up in a family modelling very traditional gender roles, and the expectation was always that I’d be too busy raising a family to work, let alone become the founder and CEO of a multi-national business. So, when I decided to take the plunge, I was met with a lot of doubt. What’s more, I did so whilst pregnant with my first child!

I believe that with careful planning and management it is absolutely possible to have the best of both worlds. Not easy, but possible. Juggling commitments is a challenge but has forced me to become extremely organised and meticulous in planning my time.

Running my own business has given me that chance to structure my time and my workplace to achieve that and allows me to offer a more flexible, supportive workplace to other great mothers so they can maximise their potential.

Becoming a mother myself only made my passion to succeed in business even greater. Not only to provide a great life for my family, but also to show my kids they can achieve anything they set out to do. Naturally for me, my most important role is that of mother to my two children. There can be no greater influence than the role of parent to child and I am really conscious of injecting quality time into what matters to them. This entails being completely present when with them and playing my part in inspiring the creative entrepreneurs of the future.

Of course striving to find a balance between running a business, being a daughter, sister, partner and friend can be exhausting, and let’s face it, there are still far too many businesses who simply don’t offer the kind of support that allows women to function as both a business woman and a human being with responsibilities and commitments.

That said, part of the problem is ourselves. What is it we will let ourselves do. Are we brave enough to be magnificent and fulfil our life purpose? I truly believe women can achieve anything if we are just willing to try!

I love encouraging others to ‘get out of their own way’, give up their excuses and get on with creating the life that they want for themselves. After all, whilst we are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and bosses – we only breathe in and out for ourselves.

Our small Sydney based team at Rufus & Coco have an-all female executive management team made up of five very talented women. These women and mothers bring so much value and a uniquely female perspective to the business.

Some of the benefits to having an all-female leadership team are the natural empathy and emotional intelligence that women bring. Women are natural connectors and tend to work more collaboratively to achieve results, engaging team members rather than working in competition with each other.

Women also tend to take the ego out of the workplace that men can sometimes bring to the table. Humility is a core quality of great leadership allowing one to step back and see the big picture and make the hard decisions that will ultimately benefit the business. When egos take over, poor decisions are made that may serve the individual but not the greater good and in today’s environment flexibility is essential to ensure the business stays on the right track.

An early mentor, Emeritus Professor Dr Roger Collins, once asked me “how will you know when you are successful in your own business?” My answer? “When I win the Telstra Business Awards!” In 2016 we were the proud recipients of a NSW Telstra Business Award and it was such an amazing feeling to take a moment with my team and really acknowledge the achievements of the past decade. We couldn’t have achieved this without the support of such a strong female team bringing their best energy to work every day.

The best leaders are authentic, honest and humble and, like everyone, have multiple commitments to manage.

There are, increasingly, more organisations that are championing the growth of women in business, looking to increase the number of women on boards and see women reach the same levels of success as their male counterparts. I’ve been a member of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO) in Sydney for years and lead a ‘Women of EO’ forum to provide a peer-support network for female entrepreneurs in the organisation.  

There is a long way to go before we see a significant cultural shift but with more organisations embracing practices like flexible work arrangements, slowly progress is being made.


Anneke van den Broek is the founder and CEO of Australia’s most awarded pet care brand, Rufus & Coco, and a passionate leader within the pet industry. With the belief that pets are good for humanity she created a household brand and is campaigning for people living in strata and rental accommodation to bring their best friends too.

Image: Anneke van den Broek. 





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