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Celebrating Pride in Tech: Meet Elisha Foust

Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue Abstract Painting, Pride LGBT concept

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Elisha Foust, Sales Operations Manager at Teradata, shares with us what she loves about tech, why she and her company are celebrating Pride, steps we can take to increase diversity in workplaces and so much more.
Elisha Foust

To continue celebrating Pride Month, we caught up with Elisha Foust, Sales Operations Manager at Teradata.

How did you get into tech? 

I got into tech early after graduating from college and then returned to it after completing my PhD. I’ve had various roles while in tech including both sales and operations. One of the best things about tech for non-technical people like me is that there is a variety of roles you can move into, to broaden your experience and create a career path all of your own. 

Do you find that non-technical skills are ever helpful in your role?  

Absolutely!  I am not technical – except for my Excel and Saleforce capabilities. The ability to work well on a team, to communicate complicated ideas succinctly and the ability to put people at ease are probably my top 3 non-tech skills that have contributed to success in my role in the tech industry. 

So, what is it about tech that you love? 

It is at the cutting edge of solving some of the world’s biggest problems. It is through tech that our cars are getting safer and kinder to the environment. It’s also through tech that medical treatments get less invasive. I really love it when tech is used thoughtfully to make human lives better. 

For me, the most exciting thing about tech is data! It’s the most valuable asset in the world right now. And we’re about to see a data explosion! Companies that can access, analyse and turn that data into answers to their business questions are going to really set themselves apart from their competition in the next 2 years. 

Have you experienced any intersecting challenges of being a gay woman in the tech industry?  

Yes! I’ve definitely had some challenges.  

For example – I attended the Alt W conference in London a few years ago. That conference was great because it was for LGBTQ+ women and our allies. I had the opportunity to network with women at the top levels of HSBC and IBM. I also got to meet Ruth Hunt, then CEO of Stonewall UK!  

When I shared my great experience with a colleague on Monday, she blindsided me. She said that conferences shouldn’t be for only one part of the population. She didn’t seem to get why I, as the only lesbian woman in the office, might really benefit and find energy by networking with other LGBTQ+ women. Instead, an event for LGBT+ professionals felt exclusionary to her. 

For the most part, I find myself taking on the role of educator about LGBT+ lives. I’m often the first lesbian woman that many people have met at work!  And to be honest, I see this role as healthy. My colleagues are engaged and accepting.  

Another example that really stands out is that people assume I’m not as smart as I am. When we did colleague feedback as part of our annual review process a few years ago, one colleague wrote that my upbeat personality gave a false impression. He noted that I was actually much cleverer than I let on – and that I should change my personality to convey my cleverness. I am paraphrasing here.  

Women face a lot of micro-aggressions like this at work, and the responsibility is often placed on us to change ourselves to ‘fit in’ better. What has helped me to succeed in tech is to stop trying to ‘fit in’ and really get to know who I am at work and to identify where I want to go. As I’ve progressed, I get less obvious criticism for being a woman and more offers of support and mentorship. 

Do you feel there is progress to celebrate when it comes to LGBT inclusion in the workplace?  

Yes! In the last 18 months I’ve seen a big push for inclusion in the workplace – not only for LGBT+ people but for people of colour and women more generally. The tech industry is absolutely opening up to diverse points of view and backgrounds. Companies that welcome diversity and promote people from all backgrounds into leadership are financially more successful as well.  

Teradata employees celebrating Pride Month

What does Pride mean to you? And your company?  

To me, pride is both a celebration of what LGBT+ people have achieved in the past and a protest to ensure those rights aren’t lost. Companies now play a cultural role in progress – and have a responsibility to push for progress in terms of inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ lives. This year, Teradata has taken that responsibility to heart. I’m proud to have featured in our social media campaigns on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.  

What do you think companies should be doing to create a diverse and inclusive work environment?  

Set up inclusion networks 

Make sure that these are created and run by employees. Teradata has inclusion groups for women, LGBT+ people, African Americans and veterans (as well as others). I and my colleagues in London have started the EMEA Women of Teradata community this year. These communities combined with a feedback loop and a task force focused on inclusion can work to create an environment where everyone feels like they can bring their whole selves to work. 

Starting the EMEA Women of Teradata network is what I’m most proud of, to date. I wanted to start a group like that for a number of years and it was this year that that hard work paid off! 

Continue working towards ending the gender pay gap  

In the UK, companies with over 250 employees are legally required to report and publish their gender pay gap numbers. Prospective employees look at this and if they don’t see progress, they will likely not consider applying. This means that companies are not seeing the top candidates they could.  

Promote women into leadership positions  

Women make up 50% of the population and that should be reflected. If companies are not attracting the female leaders with the right qualifications externally, they should mentor and sponsor internal candidates to ensure they have the right skills. Women are incredibly loyal employees. When companies invest time into mentoring their female employees, those women are likely to stay and actively participate in the company’s success. 

Elisha Foust celebrating Pride Month

What advice would you give to LGBT employees and women in tech? 

My biggest piece of advice is to form a support network with a handful of colleagues at work. I really wish someone had told me this earlier in my career. If you build a support network where you’re able to share with one another, offer advice about career steps and problem solve, it can make any issues that seem to arise from being a woman or gay in tech feel a lot more manageable. I speak to about 4 different women in various positions once a month. We talk about projects we’re working on, problems we’re trying to solve and general career topics.  

A good professional network will also get you through your worst days!  My advice is that as you’re working across different projects or coming into contact with different people, invite those whose work you’re interested in to a 30 minute catch up. Make clear that the purpose of the call is for you each to share where you are with a certain project or piece of business. I’d suggest as well that you aim for folks who are at your peer level. Leaders are often time poor and may not really be able to share their businesses with you. With colleagues at similar levels, you can find an equal way of sharing. 

Elisha Foust celebrating International Women's Day

What advice do you have for women in tech, on tackling imposter syndrome? 

I don’t think we ever get over imposter syndrome!  But we can find ways to soften its effects on us. For me, preparation for meetings and presentations is key. I need to feel fully prepared – know both my content and my context. Once I’ve prepared, I can then go into meetings are big presentations and have fun with them! Finding ways to enjoy the big stuff definitely softens the voice of imposter syndrome for me. 

Finally: 3 lessons you’ve learnt throughout your career? 

  1. Never underestimate the value of networking. Talk to everyone and many different levels in all areas of an organization. Find out what they do and let them know what you’re passionate about. 
  2. Don’t cut your personal life off from your work life.  Find out how you can bring your whole self to work. Your mental strength depends on it. 
  3. Adopt an attitude of service leadership. Leaders who work to serve their employees are more likely to have their pulse on the organization. 
Elisha Foust's dog celebrating Pride
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