Unapologetically Herself: Pride Month Q&A with Jen Westhead

Pride month

As Pride Month comes to a close, Jen Westhead, a Global People Operations Analyst at Medallia, shares her story.

If you have been following Medallia’s blogs, social media, and/or are a Medallian yourself, you have heard us say time and time again that we value the whole person. And if you are new here, welcome. As someone who is a QBIPOC woman, I am always asking the question of what does “valuing the whole person really mean” and how are we doing this, especially in a corporate setting.

June is Pride Month, so let’s pause and look past the rainbows, turn down Beyonce’s new epic anthem ‘Break My Soul,’ and take a moment to look at the people who make up the LGBTQ+ community. Take a moment to uplift those around you who celebrated the month. Pause to learn people’s stories and truly learn about someone’s whole self.

For NYC Pride this year, the theme was ‘Unapologetically Us,’ and I think this is exactly what valuing the whole person really means — when someone can be unapologetically themselves. When we learn each other’s story and deeply understand each other, we as humans have more compassion, care, and openness to one another. To close out Pride Month, Jen Westhead, Global People Operations Analyst and a lead of Medallia’s Q-Field Employee Resource Group here at Medallia, allowed me to tell her story, unapologetically. 

We often talk about creating safe spaces and creating community, this is one of the beautiful aspects of Pride Month. How have you been able to build your community inside and outside of Medallia?

Creating safe spaces is one of the most important aspects of Pride Month. It’s easy for people to see their own struggles and hardships mirrored in other people, but it’s harder to understand the hardships that someone goes through when it comes to battles that we haven’t had to face in our own lives. I have a hard time going to large scale community events, so I try to create a safe space for my loved ones as much as possible. Oftentimes, it’s so easy to feel discouraged by not being able to make a huge or visible impact within the greater community, but it’s just as important to make differences with individuals. If we all take the time to just reach out to one of our friends and let them know that we’re here for them, we can hopefully create a snowball effect of positive and safe spaces for everyone. 

Within Medallia, I’ve been able to take a small step toward making a bigger impact: I volunteered to become a lead in our Q-Field ERG. The other leads I work with are such amazing and inspirational people and they push me to be a better and stronger version of myself. We work together to create a safe space within our ERG for people to voice their opinions, reflect on current and past events, and celebrate who we are. We organize company events to not only have fun, but to bring to light our community and make sure that Medallia, in general, is an accepting place where people don’t have to be discouraged about being who they are. When you really get to the core of it, creating a safe space and communities means making sure every voice is heard, every background is embraced and celebrated, and every person is accepted fully.

What is it that you want people to know about you and your journey?

The most important thing to me, throughout my whole life, is loving those around me. I like to make people feel good about themselves and I like to try to create as many positive experiences for people that I can. I’ve found over the last few years of the pandemic I never really offered myself that same respect and I never really hyped myself up. I’ve struggled a lot through my life with self-love and because of that I never felt comfortable embracing who I am. After having time for introspection throughout the pandemic, I was determined to try to be my most authentic self. Seeing all of the tragedy that our country felt during these times and how many people we lost, I felt it was a disservice to those people to not try to live my life to the fullest. 

I’ve confronted my fears about my mental health and am an advocate for being open and honest about what you’re going through. The more people are open about this sort of thing, the less people we’ll lose to mental health battles.

I had been out to many of my friends, but felt nervous about coming out to my family because their opinions and views of me were so important. Things went well and my family accepted and embraced me for who I am. I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. It makes me feel even closer to them. Jen Westhead

What is something that you wish you could tell your past self? 

Jen, I want you to know that you are a good person and that you deserve love. You don’t have to hide who you are or exist in a way that makes others feel more comfortable, if it means not being yourself. You are more than just your disorders, and you’re more than just the trauma that you’ve lived through. You need to cut yourself a break and treat yourself the way you try to treat others. You’re going to deal with a lot of hardship, but you’ll get through them and come out with a more positive frame of mind and a more positive outlook on life. As your dad always says, “close your eyes and take a deep breath. Everything is going to be all right.”

In navigating your career was there ever a time where you felt the need to hide who you are?  

In the 14 years I’ve been working, there have been many times I’ve felt that way. I’ve always been an extremely reserved and shy person; I don’t really fit our society’s ideals of how a woman should act or look. I have tattoos and I love dying my hair funky colors (or shaving my head completely in some cases). Differences like that can give companies an opportunity to make you feel bad about yourself.  I’ve been passed up for promotions just because I didn’t do as well at initiating conversations or speaking loudly enough, despite doing my job well. I’ve been told that if I just acted a bit more femininely that I could work in a better job. I’ve been told to make sure to always wear long sleeves and to button up my blouses to the neck to avoid having my tattoos show because it “left a bad impression” or “made me less professional.” I’ve been told something as silly as doing something fun with my hair can prevent me from doing my job. It hurts you to your core when who you are as a person is thought to detract from your work ethic. It was heartbreaking hearing that sort of thing, when I knew I was trying my hardest to be a good employee. 

Can you tell me your thoughts on your experiences over time and how they have impacted where you are now?  

Unfortunately and fortunately, it took some serious low points in my mental health to realize that working in environments that make you feel bad about yourself constantly are never going to work out long term. It’s like a bad relationship, red flags just look like flags when you’re looking at them through rose-colored glasses. You sometimes have to just rip the bandaid off and end things, in order to find another option that’s more healthy and positive for you. 

Why did you choose Medallia, and how has Medallia shaped your experiences?

I, like many other people in the world, lost my job during COVID. A wonderful, lovely, amazing person that I previously worked with referred me to this job. I didn’t know too much about Medallia, aside from what she had told me. It only took me a few days of being on the job to realize how positive of a working environment Medallia was. It was constantly emphasized that this is a place where you can bring your whole self to work and that was baffling to me. It took some warming up, but I started becoming comfortable showing aspects of myself that I never felt comfortable showing at work before. No more customer service voice, no more covering up my tattoos, no more feeling like I wasn’t welcome. 

Can you reflect on where you are at now and what you’d want to tell yourself in the mirror? 

Self: You are still a work in progress right now, but so is everyone else. You can lift other people up without putting yourself down. You have been doing a great job at opening up to people more and expressing yourself. Just keep pushing forward. Everything will be OK. 

What do you hope for your future self? What do you want to tell her? 

I’d tell my future self: I hope we are living our life to the fullest. I hope you’ve continued to let your path be open and that you’ve considered any opportunities that came your way. I hope that you’ve continued to work on yourself and learned to love who you are. I hope you’ve become what little Jennie always wanted us to be: a punk rocker who doesn’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of who you should be. 

Jen Westhead and her dog

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