Rachel King: being a woman leader in the SaaS world

Q&A with the newly appointed UK General Manager at Breathe

You recently started your new role as the GM at Breathe – how are you finding it?

It’s a huge milestone in my career, and I’m so proud to take on this new role, taking Breathe to the next level. I’ve worked at the company for over 10 years, so I’ve been a central part of the growth journey.

My new role encompasses a lot – I get to work closely with our Australian colleagues, as well as our ELMO UK team. Many of the skills I’ve gathered in marketing and operations translate well into this position as General Manager, so I’m fortunate and equipped to tackle what comes my way.

Breathe’s values are based on putting people first in an organisation and treating people fairly and with respect, so it’s really important to me that this remains the mantra moving forward. There are so many exciting plans in the pipeline and I’m ready to make them happen!

Why is being a people-first organisation so important?

It seems obvious, but it’s important to define what it really means to be a “people-first” driven organisation. People are at the heart of all businesses, which is why it is important to look beyond data-driven results, output and productivity when measuring employee value.

To be people-first is to safeguard and support the people who make up your business, reinforcing this through wellbeing initiatives and fostering a company culture based on mutual trust and respect. You need to mean what you say and keep your promises to your people.

Showing employees that their time, investment and trust in you as a leader is reciprocated and that you care is a priority. Simply put, people want to feel autonomous, have the flexibility and ultimately feel fulfilled in their roles. You can create a people-first organisation by giving your people a voice and flexibility at work.

What do you believe creates a thriving company culture?

Company culture is the DNA of a business. It’s intangible and illusive and usually comes from the top down when a business is born. Cultures develop organically, but they need continual nurturing. The company culture isn’t a fluffy concept; it reinforces your business vision, mission and personality and ultimately can make or break your staff retention and long-term revenue goals. It’s all about creating an environment where workers can thrive. When people are happy at work, they’re more productive, so it makes business sense to make sure every employee feels good about what they do on a daily basis and feel they fit in with the people they interact with.

To create a successful company culture, transparency, trust, and respect are key. This involves a certain level of emotional intelligence – it’s hard to spot the red flags when someone is struggling across a hybrid workforce, so it’s even more important to really check in with people and see how they are doing on a personal level.

Thankfully, the importance of business cultures and employee wellbeing have come to the fore following the pandemic. Now, workplace disparities are regularly under the microscope, and – as seen with the Great Resignation – people are re-evaluating what is important to them, from work-life balance, personal development, and mental and physical health support. Employee happiness is central to talent retention, which means leadership must hold honest, productive conversations to identify areas of improvement and collectively form resolutions that align with employees and their needs.

How has your marketing background informed your current role?

Having a background in marketing supports my role in many ways. Marketing touches all areas of the business from product to support, giving you the background you need to succeed.

I have a passion for small businesses and being an SME ourselves until very recently means I have first-hand knowledge of the joys and challenges of running a small business. I ensure that our brand values come to life throughout the business. Breathe’s marketing strategy is also very disciplined and every activity we implement is carefully planned and measured. I ensure that the rest of the business follows these disciplines.

Why did you choose the world of SaaS for your career?

I think SaaS chose me but now I’m here I’m not sure I want anything else! My background is actually financial services, which certainly gave me the grounding in marketing and business strategy.

I love the fast-paced world of running a SaaS product with the agility to move with market needs. Measurement is key to running a successful business and there is a plethora of SaaS metrics to choose from to ensure you are on the right track. Our mission is to make life easier for our customers through our HR software, and when I receive feedback from customers whose business has been transformed through the adoption of our software it fills me with joy!

What does being a female leader mean to you?

I recently read that women account for about 32% of the tech industry’s workers, which shows there is still a long way to go for women in tech. To me, being a female leader is understanding the value of creating a space for diverse voices. All companies need an environment whereby workers feel included, and their opinion is valued.

As a female leader, I hope to serve as a role model for other women interested in pursuing a career in SaaS and reaching levels they might not have imagined they could reach. Although more women are in the room and at the table, there are still many expectations and biases to face. We need to be using language like assertive and decisive, rather than ‘bossy’, to move away from unhelpful old-school thinking.

To challenge deep-rooted biases, it helps to bring your authentic self to work and speak up as much as you can, making your voice heard. Learning and sharing knowledge and experiences will empower individuals, and I hope as a female leader I can ensure every employee feels trusted, self-assured, challenged and supported throughout their career path to reach their full potential.

Do you have any advice for other women who want to follow a similar career path?

Find your superpower and skills that are authentic to you. Self-belief is a lot like motivation; we don’t have it 100% of the time but reminding yourself of your key strengths and what you have to offer is vital for building your confidence and going after what you want. Allies are also important for reinforcing your worth and self-belief. Build your network, have conversations and seek guidance from people you can trust and respect – this will be key for your progression. There are so many communities and newsletters out there to sign up to – no matter your area of interest – and by making connections, you will be exposed to ideas and opportunities in new spaces you otherwise would have no idea existed.

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