Leading Ladies Profile
This year our Gender Equity campaign created the ‘Leading Ladies’ series to celebrate, advocate for and discuss challenges facing women in leadership. To hear our series lead, Iqra Shahid's, thoughts on female leadership, see our blog ‘A Love Letter to Leading Ladies’.
We are so excited to share these profiles of leading women in their respective fields sharing their personal experiences and challenges and advice for future leaders.
Rachel Carrell is the founder and CEO of Koru Kids, a fast-growing tech company dedicated to building the world’s best childcare service. Originally from New Zealand, Rachel holds a masters and doctorate from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She has received numerous awards including ‘Inspirational Mother’ and ‘Best Businesswoman in Tech’, and was elected a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in recognition of her work. Rachel is also the mother of two young children. She was CEO of a multinational healthcare company when she had her first baby, experienced first-hand how difficult and expensive it was to arrange childcare, and decided to found Koru Kids.
What has been key to your success?
The key to my success has definitely been making connections with peers in my industry and other founders and learning from them. I have only been able to do anything because I was part of a community of leaders, founders and entrepreneurs who have helped each other learn. For me, that has been critical. It’s the same actually as a parent, I have learned pretty much all aspects of my parenting from discussing things with other parents, especially other mothers. The biggest tip I would give anyone starting out in business is: find your tribe, find your community, find a safe space where you can connect with people who are at a similar stage on the journey to you or maybe a little bit more advanced than you and learn from them.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess and why?
One of the main characteristics that I look for in people I hire- and I also think it’s very important for leaders- is humility. That’s another way of saying ‘learning orientation’ or ‘growth mindset’, to me these are all different words for the same main quality which is knowing that you have so much to learn. One of the main things if I ever give advice to any young entrepreneurs it is to ‘be a sponge’, learn from absolutely every direction you can, every situation, every person that you meet. I can really tell the difference between people who do that and people who don’t. Quite often I meet people who might be confident (which is great), might be passionate (which is great) but they can be close-minded and don’t necessarily have that learning mindset. You can tell because they don’t follow the same steep trajectory that the people who approach life with more humility have where they know they don’t know everything so they’re looking to learn as fast as they can.
How do you balance your career with other roles you have in life?
Some other roles I have in my life: I’m a wife, I’m a mother and I’m a friend. I have to say friendship right now is taking a bit of a backseat because there are only 24 hours in the day and I choose to give my time right now to my family- to my husband and my two young children- and to my business. I do like to connect with people but unfortunately the really deep ‘university-style’ friendships I used to have, I just don’t have time for them anymore. It is very important to me to balance my life with my other roles, luckily working from home makes this a lot easier. I have a full-time nanny which is very critical to my life and getting all of this balance right. For my job, what I do is I help families find nannies so you can imagine I have a wonderful nanny myself and she has been really invaluable during lockdown. She can supervise home-schooling, one of the greatest joys in my life is being able to have a meeting in my office and then wander downstairs and talk to my daughter about something that’s going on with her homework and then go back up to my office with a cup of tea. Right now, that balance is working really well but I’m very conscious that I’m extremely lucky and privileged to be able to have that set-up and so one of the things that I get out of bed for everyday is to try to help more working parents have a more balanced life and get the childcare support that they need.
How do you feel about men not getting asked about their personal lives when women so frequently are? Is this something you feel all genders should be asked or none should?
I think absolutely women and men should be asked about their personal lives. I was recently interviewed and I got asked a question like this (‘how do you balance things’) and the person asking me made sure that I knew that she asks everyone this, she definitely asked the men as well and I really appreciated her letting me know that. I think all genders should be asked, I think it’s very important that we can bring our full selves to work.
Which woman has most inspired you and why?
Right now, I take a lot of inspiration from the Prime Minister of my home country. I’m from New Zealand originally and the Prime Minister is Jacinda Ardern. She is a wonderful role model. I think she embodies modern leadership; she is very empathetic, very humble, very practical, very approachable, down to earth, she’s smart, she’s completely in control of her brief and she works very hard. I think all of these are just amazing, wonderful leadership qualities that we should look for in any leader.
As a female leader, what are the most significant barriers you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
For me, the two- I hate to call them barriers because they are my children!- but the two biggest, lovely challenges I have encountered are my two wonderful children. With the pregnancy and then birth… in both cases I went back to work very quickly after having them. In the case of the second one, actually, within two days I went back to work so very quickly. That was a tough juggle, it’s definitely the hardest thing that I have done in my life. How did I overcome it? I have an incredibly supportive husband. He took two months off from his work and he has a very big job himself; he works in a very high stress, very responsible job and he took two months off it to support me in what I was doing in my career. I’m a big believer in the saying that ‘the most important career decision a woman ever makes is the person that she has as her partner’.
How do you think we can get more women into leadership?
I think that solving childcare is extremely important in getting more women into leadership. I feel so passionately about this, this is the reason I founded my company KoruKids. I think that the brunt of childcare still falls on women and until we can sort out childcare; until we can make it seamless, easy and accessible, until we can make it affordable and properly supported by the government we are not going to be able to get women into leadership. I think what we’ve seen in this pandemic is that when the childcare system breaks the consequences mostly do fall on women, the pandemic has been a horrible step backwards for women. So we need this childcare reform, we need a better childcare infrastructure more desperately than ever and that is exactly what I am trying to build at KoruKids.