Fantastic Famale – Renee Watson, FRSA Founder and Head of Explosions

Renee Watson is on a mission to give 1 million children a wonder-filled experience of science. Since founding her first business in 2008, she has raised more than £10 million for science-focused charities and organisations and won awards for leadership in business and STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths). In 2016 Renee launched The Curiosity Box, the UKs first science by post kits that give families and schools the tools they need to bring STEM to life through hands-on, real world activities.

The Curiosity Box

Having grown up in a rural town where no-one she knew had been to University and science was weird, especially for a girl, Renee is determined to create Wow! moments for all. She’s constantly looking for new ways to disrupt preconceived ideas about the world of STEM, and make it accessible and fun for all young people, regardless of background, financial status or gender. Renee has been recognised by Melinda Gates’ as one of six women in STEM to watch. She is also a massive fan of touch rugby and has represented England at international level.

How did you balance being a mother and professional? 

I’m not sure balance is quite the right word, it’s more like a soup, all mixed in together and most of the time it sort of works! I have learned to carve out and fiercly protect time for my children, my husband and importantly for myself. We have a family “plan the week” session every Sunday where the kids, my husband and I allocate the tasks for the coming week. This way, we all share responsibility for keeping the household going. 

What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career? 

Early in my career I sacrificed my accent to fit in here in the UK. When I had my children I sacrificed their pace of life to fit in with mine. For a long time this meant me rushing them all over the place and getting frustrated when they didn’t keep up. I redressed this issue with a reality check, some childcare help, a cleaner and a good dose of therapy. The only sacrifice that really hurts has been my own mental health. Playing the glue that holds everything together leaves little room to not be OK. I learned the hard way last year that even the most resilient of us can break, and I’m getting much better at being kind to myself.

Who inspired you and why? 

So many people!!! My grandfather started a manufacturing business, that my dad took over and I worked in the factory in my summer holidays – that taught me so much about being a leader who never looses sight of the work and people on “the workshop floor”. My early career mentor Kirstine Knox showed me how to be a powerful woman in work without changing who I am. At the moment Jacinda Adhern inspires me every day – she is living proof that kindness and being human can coexist with power and success.

What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?

 Being Nice can be a superpower, it can also lead you down roads you really dont want to take. So by all means, be Nice but always with thought and intention, not to “nice your way out” of things you don’t want to do.

Do you think women feel intimidated in business? 

I think worse than being intimidated, is feeling underestimated and undervalued. I don’t know many women who haven’t had an experience of someone automatically assuming less of them. This means we have to waste precious mental and emotional space proving our worth just to be on a level playing field. That’s my experience, and I am a white, heterosexual woman!

Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.? 

Coaching my daughter’s football team – we have a team of 3 parents who decided to try collaborative coaching to build leadership, confidence and spirit before physical skills and winning so it’s really interesting seeing the girls grow.

What do you love about your job? 

It has got to be the Wow! Moments! Seeing the face of a child light up when they have realised something amazing about the world around them is pure joy. The best thing is that grown ups can have Wow! Moments too, and when I see someone in my team have one, it makes my heart swell!

What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made? 

Taking the leap from employment to freelancer. Starting Curiosity Box has been a wild ride! I think one of the most rewarding things has been creating a work environment that I believe is fair, based on trust and that treats people as whole humans with a life outside of work.

What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made? 

Starting a PhD – I was only really doing it to get the qualification, my heart wasnt in it and it was a huge energy drain.

How do you organise your time? 

I use the time when I am most switched on and focused to do the meatier tasks and I have layers of to do lists. A simple to do list app on my phone for the itemised tasks, a lovely colourful mind map for the big picture and lots of whiteboards that are easy to see and reach. My electronic calendar is essential, if it isnt in there, it doesnt exist!

What do you think is your greatest strength? 

I am very good at bringing people with me and getting them excited about the vision. 

What do you think is your greatest weakness? 

I avoid conflict. I am sometimes so worried about ‘being nice” and not hurting people’s feelings that I compromise too much. I am working on this!

How do you make decisions?

 I am happy taking risks so sometimes I can make snap decisions because something feels right. For more significant things, I am a big fan of a whiteboard, lots of coloured pens and a mind map analysis.

What do you read?

 YES! Usually just before bed, it helps me clear my brain – though I normally dont get through more than a few pages before falling asleep so it takes ages to finish a book.

What do you think are the secrets behind getting to where you’ve got to?

 Having a clear purpose. Knowing the impact those wow! moments can have on children, particularly those from less affluent backgrounds, is my North Star. When I’ve come up against challenges, that purpose gives me motivation to keep going. 

The Curiosity Box

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