Claire Darley Q&A with Joy Foster

Interview #1 in a series of conversations with industry leaders to examine how creatives find work in these times and how women face more obstacles in the workplace.

Woman looking at her phone smiling.

Image source: Adobe Stock.

By Claire Darley

Posted on 03-08-2021

Welcome to the first of a three-part interview series in which I will be examining key issues facing the creative industry. In my opening interview, I chatted with social entrepreneur and CEO of TechPixies Joy Foster to explore the challenges facing women in their professional lives, including difficulties re-entering workplace, overcoming confidence issues, and realising the power of personal development.

Through my conversations with industry leaders to examine how creatives can find and sustain work in these uncertain times — and seek to thrive — I am reminded how women face even more obstacles in the workplace. While issues are often systemic, and therefore external, they can leave a lasting imprint and result in a ‘confidence gap’ that affects what women expect from society, employers and themselves. This year, on International Women’s Day, women are encouraged to #ChooseToChallenge. The hashtag tells us that ‘we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions — all day, every day.’ I see this, in part, as a call for women to find our voice, ask for what we need and demand what we are worth.

Perhaps there was no better time to talk to Joy Foster, social entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of TechPixies, a company that has helped thousands of women use social media to find or return to work. As a neuro coach and a woman of faith, Foster understands better than most how ‘we are the thinker of our thoughts and our thoughts can govern our success.’ In this interview, Foster tells us how women can overcome self-limiting beliefs to realise their full potential. She reminds us that ‘nothing is promised,’ and that ‘women have to have a role in developing themselves.’ Her wisdom is poignant on International Women’s Day or any day of the year.

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As an athlete, mum and CEO and founder of TechPixies, I can see you are a woman of purpose. How did you find yours?

I felt adrift for so long. In school, I studied many things and was in every type of club. Then I tried and left several jobs. I’ve learned this is a common experience for entrepreneurs, but I found myself lacking purpose — I wanted to contribute my individual gifts to the world. It wasn’t until I moved to Switzerland as a newly married expat — isolated, less confident and looking for work — that I had a lightbulb moment. I could help other women who felt like me! The germs of that idea became commercially viable as TechPixies was born. I remember telling a friend that I finally knew what I was meant to be: a social entrepreneur.

Like TechPixies, Adobe seeks to support women every day, not just on International Women’s Day. Tell us what makes you proud about your focus on women.

Women are fundamentally creative, but I sometimes wonder if they think they shouldn’t be paid a premium for something that comes so naturally. Creativity is so necessary. In tech, for example, it’s mostly all white males building for a world that is not all white or all male. We can’t solve the world’s problems with limited perspectives. Women need to see value in their inherent creativity and inclusiveness — they need to foster it and be compensated for it. This is especially true when women are out of work. I see them develop self-limiting beliefs, like, ‘I shouldn’t pay for a course if I don’t have a job.’ I want women to understand that investing in their own future is not just about them. It’s for their families or colleagues or future employees — hopefully more women!

I love your TechPixies SPARKLE values — it’s such a creative way to name them, frame them and live by them.

You need values in life or business (and let’s face it, there’s fewer boundaries between life and work now). Values help you decide where to invest your time and resources and they draw like-minded people to you.

SPARKLE means supportive, positive, authentic relationships (SPAR) with women who are keen to learn (KL) and want to be empowered (E). Being supportive and positive is easy — but the authenticity is hard. It means you may have to say something you don’t want to say, even though we know learning can’t happen without candor.

Adobe is a big company with 24,000+ employees, but a key part of our mindset is to be entrepreneurial. What advice do you have for big companies to keep that spirit alive?

I always say that it’s good to fail and fail fast, but if you fail all the time, you’ll never know what success is! We must define success and give people as many routes to it as possible. I give my teams a problem to solve and ask for 10 different solutions — whereas most people just think about one or two.

In fact, brainstorming is one of the best ways that big companies can learn from small companies and vice versa. Just think, Adobe might understand UX or digital accessibility better than anyone. With a start-up at the table, together they can think of some really ingenious solutions. That’s where creative people are really fun — and really powerful.

You’re right. Everyone needs to be reminded of their own skills and capabilities.

Absolutely — and I am not just saying this as a course creator, but I have seen women transformed because they learn new skills. What people need to recognise is that a woman who has had a career break (anywhere from 6 months to 20 years) has low confidence and feels her colleagues are more technologically up to speed than she is. The number one thing an employer can do to unleash her talent is invest in training — and give her time to devote to courses. They need to point employees in the right direction to close gaps in their development. Realistically, they should want people to develop beyond themselves and even leave. A good employer progresses people not careers.

I couldn’t agree more. At Adobe, we fund learning, from £1,000 for easily accessible training all the way to larger endeavours, like MBAs. I’m always surprised even more people don’t take advantage of this benefit. Why?

In the same way that women don’t ask for pay rises if they don’t know how, you need to know that something is available to you, and know its value, to demand it. Companies must have the right appraisal structure in place, communicate their expectations and match objectives to development needs. In return, working women must also know that nothing is promised — that they have a role in developing themselves and that they won’t get a promotion or a bonus just because they put in the time. Hope is not a strategy.

Again, we’re reminded of the confidence gap. What’s your secret sauce?

My secret sauce is my faith, which I don’t talk about as often in our secular world. My daughter gave me a plaque with this quote from Hebrews 11: ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.’ Whether religious or not, it’s about your ability to believe that your company can be a success, or it can overcome any problem, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.

And as a soon-to-be certified master neuro coach, I really underscore that you are the thinker of your own thoughts. You have power in this moment to make decisions for the future you want, not the future that you don’t.

But always leave room for miracles.

They say ‘you make your own luck’, but it’s true. Sometimes things just happen synchronously. But with a little belief — in yourself or something bigger — a sense of purpose and genuine hard graft, you can drive your own change and future. The TechPixies tribe has shown us how to take over the world!

Did that leave you wanting more? I’ll next be speaking with Andria Zafirakou discussing the role of creativity in education.

Topics: Creativity, Insights & Inspiration, Leadership, Creative Cloud, Celebrating Women