Passionate about building businesses that transform industries, Renee Welsh launched her first business at the age of 27. Thereafter, her career has been peppered with stints at startups that took her from Australia to Europe. Today, she is the CEO of Embed and Booking Boss which are both holdings of Helix Leisure.
An outspoken supporter of improving female representation in the tech industry, she has always taken efforts to ensure more women in her company rise up to the C-suite level. She has spoken about the issue in several public and industry forums. Renee is also a founder of Crone Queen, a collective where women help each other to overcome professional hurdles. In this chat with Women Icons Network, she talks about these efforts and gives suggestions as to how other businesses can work towards a gender balanced workforce.
Born to working class blue-collar parents in Sydney, Renee says she got her work ethic, discipline, and drive from her parents. She says that her family also inspires her to be a better person and live her dreams out loud.
She earned an advanced diploma in travel and tourism even before completing her bachelor’s degree in commerce and marketing. A natural innovator, she has worked in various verticals within the technology industry. After years of working in the tourism industry, she noticed that many businesses were still working from diaries and spreadsheets. “This led me to realize that with the rapid growth of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and changing consumer purchase trends that are moving online, these businesses would struggle to keep up with their manual booking processes,” she shares.
It was this realisation that led to her launching of Booking Boss in 2013 with her husband Andy who is incidentally an enterprise software engineer. It is an award-winning ticketing and booking management platform dedicated to attractions, tours, and entertainment industries. Four years later, the company was acquired by Helix Leisure and she soon took over as the CEO of Embed as well. It is an integrated cloud-based business solution platform made to enable business owners in the Family Entertainment Center (FEC) space.
World of Startups
Renee believes that her past experiences with start-ups has taught her to be ambitious and self-driven. It has also allowed her to push boundaries when she started her own business. “I have also gained a lot of valuable experience from working in the tech and travel sectors, building on my wealth of industry knowledge and becoming a more informed and forward-thinking entrepreneur,” she shares when asked about her lessons from the start-up world.
However, it’s not all fun and games for female entrepreneurs. She talks about how raising capital is harder for startups with female founders. Citing a report of Silicon Valley Bank, she informs how start-ups with female founders are more likely to tap small investors for fundraising efforts or risk not securing funding at all.
She also feels that the struggle to attain gender equality is the same for both start-ups and corporations. In both the spaces, she thinks, there is a struggle to ensure that your voice is heard and respected as a female leader.
When Renee took the reins of Embed in her hands, she knew she wanted it to stand out for the right reasons. She worked hard with the team to ensure that the company was seen, heard, and respected in the industry for technology innovation, thought-leadership, corporate social responsibility, and great partnership. She also gets inspired on learning about new and emerging technology that can be applied or adapted for Embed’s business.
When she first started out in the industry, female representation in the tech and family entertainment centre (FEC) sectors was unheard of, both remain very male dominated even today. In fact, many of her competitors are led by male CEOs and are also family-owned. “It has been a rollercoaster ride ever since I embarked on this journey in the tech and FEC sector, but I have enjoyed all the challenges and opportunities tremendously,” she says.
As the CEO of a tech company, she has been able to push for greater female representation so much that today 50% of the company’s leadership team is female. This, at a time when half of the startups have no women on their leadership teams. In fact, only 17% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and only one in four start-ups has a woman on the founding team. She hopes that this good work can inspire other companies – small and large – to achieve better gender representation in the workplace.
Acknowledging the fact that a lot of progress had been made in the last couple of decades when it comes to improving the female representation in the workplace, Renee feels that there is still scope for a more gender balanced workforce.
The problems that still haunt working women across the globe include wage pay gaps to dealing with domestic responsibilities alongside work. She believes that it is instrumental for women to band together and have a support system where they can rely on other women for encouragement, support, sharing life lessons, mentoring and reverse mentoring.
She also has a few suggestions to make these improvements at the corporate level. In order to achieve gender equality and gender parity in the workplace, the most important step is to reduce the gender pay gap. She also stresses the significance of ensuring gender parity at all levels of the organization and leveling the playing field by having the same number of women in executive decision-making positions as men. “Creating a company culture that values inclusion and diversity at all levels of an organization, diversity in cultures, gender, LGBTQ+ and other such factors is paramount,” she opines.
Women supporting Women
Elaborating on the women supporting women concept, Renee says, “It is the only way that women will rise and step into their power, redefining how they want to age, architecting the life they want, and living life on their own terms.” As they age, women become smarter and more aware of their authenticity, she thinks.
Her enormous trust in this idea was what gave birth to her passion project Crone Queen, which she co-founded with Embed’s CMO and award-winning marketer Sara Paz. “It was born from our dream to bring women together in a collective, harnessing the uncompromising power of authenticity to illuminate and elevate other women,” she explains. This is their way to help other women as they power through their first life chapter and continue to shine in their second and third life chapters.
Crone Queen aims to empower and nurture females through their different life stages – those in their 30s and above in particular, enabling them to embrace their truest selves. This is done by means of cutting-edge content, pioneering and uplifting events, and introduction to inspiring products. “We hope to connect women from all walks of life – who are Queens in their own right – to build a community centred around wellness, healthy-living philosophies, financial strength, and living their best lives in every chapter,” informs Renee.