Jillian J. Foster


What do you do as CEO of Global Insight International?

I manage a team of consultants. We are a team of highly skilled and very passionate advisors with expertise in different thematic areas (peace and security, global health, climate change, education, and so forth) who all intersect at the use of a gender-sensitive lens and passion for gender equality.

As CEO, it's my job to keep everyone motivated and working smoothly as a team. Our team is located throughout the world, so the element of remote work is always something we must consider when scheduling meetings and coordinating collaborative projects.

You’re also a specialist in Gender, Peace & Security. What does that mean?

That means my consulting work, my research, and my backgrounds are related to gender issues particular to conflict and post-conflict settings. I specialise in research, programme evaluation, and trainings broadly within gender-based violence, political action/violence, and livelihoods programs.

Describe a “typical work day”.

A typical day starts with coffee. Then emails. Then maybe a few phone calls. Always a handful of meetings, with current or prospective clients. Some more coffee and emails. Then a touch of networking (I like to call it 'connecting' as my work truly depends on relationships). Finally dinner and a glass of wine. Then maybe a little more work/emails before bed. As an entrepreneur, these are long days.

How did you get to your current job?

After undergrad, I was laid off from my first 'big' job after six months when the economy crashed. This was a shocking experience at 23. From then forward, the most fulfilling work has come through consulting contracts. I've found that increasingly the security of a long-term job is slowly going by the wayside. We must be nimble and creative in this economy. Rather than fight this trend, I decided to go with it and start Global Insight. The life of a consultant can be isolating, so I started Global Insight with the core value of collaboration. I strongly believe my work is improved through this process.

Your first degree was in economics at Cal Poly followed by degrees in gender studies (UCL) and more recently applied quantitative research at NYU. How have you used your degrees in your career and why pursue two MAs?

I left undergrad very passionate about gender equality and feminism. I was hungry for more study on this subject but unsure about doing a PhD at that stage. I received a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship right around this same time, which allowed me the opportunity to attend UCL and SOAS. Through that process, I was able to work abroad and learn from others who gathered in London from all around the world.

This past year, I have pursued another degree in applied quantitative research (aka data science) because I wanted to further develop my statistical skills and ability to research using technology. This program is also bringing me steps closer to my goal of doctoral study in the very near future. My education has also led to my being able to teach, which I start next week at Rutgers University.

Quite a few of your jobs have been in organisations linked to women’s right – why did you choose that route?

Yes. I am passionate about women's rights. Being a woman, I feel the constriction of rights based on gender both personal and professional. Another woman's pain is my pain, because what happens to her could always, any day, happen to me purely because I am a woman too. I am lucky to have the education I do and the opportunities I have. My work is a reflection of my desire to put that education to good use.

You’re also the founder and CEO of Feminist Dialogue. How does it fit in with your wider career and how do you manage to do both this and your full time job? 

Feminist Dialogue (FD) is a growing organisation with a very different function to that of Global Insight. FD produces events (The Hive brunch series, Feminism in New York conference in the spring, and more coming soon). I'm terribly passionate about FD's mission to reclaim, redefine, and rebrand feminism as more inclusive and resonate with younger generations of women and men. A team of 15 people have helped me build this organisation. It's a lot of work, but this labour of love would not happen if it weren't for our staff.

How do I do FD and a Global Insight? Asking for support, delegating, taking it one step at a time. Learning from and building with others. Feminist Dialogue is a team effort.

I consider myself an activist-academic-entrepreneur. For me, Global Insight and Feminist Dialogue are different organisations but come together at my passion for gender equality and feminism, both of which will remain staples of my career as I move forward.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your career?

Working with clients that do good work. I am privileged to support the work of organisations that touch women's, men's, boys', and girls' lives around the world.

What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?

Hustle. Never give up. Take risks. Ask for help. Listen to and learn from others. Never give up. One step in front of the other... success takes years to build.

What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?

Creativity and hustle are something that I've developed through many years of trying "to make it" as a child of a single-mother. I've seen my mother struggle and how hard she has worked. A consistently bold work ethic was taught to me as a child.

Finally, education. My degrees have opened doors through my learning new skills and also building new relationships.

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?

One I'm still learning, sometimes it's better to be narrow in focus rather than broad. It's scary to narrow one's expertise in an economy that feels chaotic, but I've noticed that the more definitive I am about "what I do", the easier it is for others to help me, work with me, and for us to build something together.

What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?

I wish I had done the Peace Corps right out of undergrad. What a fabulous experience and time to explore the world as a young woman. Student loan debt scared me away from that experience, yet in hindsight, I would have done it right away.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?

As a young woman of the "western" world, we are often told that we can do anything. Yet, as I grew into my career, I realised that there are still considerable barriers hindering women's access to certain fields, particularly those that require international travel. Finding the field full of older male mentors can be daunting and lend itself to issues of sexual harassment when you least expect it. Learning to navigate this path is a process that has taken years. Sharing with and learning from other women has been exceptionally helpful.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I'm very proud of my education. I'm also very proud to run Global Insight and Feminist Dialogue. A great deal of personal and professional growth has come from taking the risk of starting these two organisations. It's been difficult at times and exhilarating at others.

Do you have a role model and, if so, who and why?

My role models are varied depending on the subject or situation, but most often they are individuals who make the world a better place through their courage to stand for justice. I love people that speak their mind and take risks to provide outlets for marginalised populations to speak their truth.

Jillian J. Foster - CEO of Global Insight International

Seven years' experience

Studied at: New York UniversityUniversity College London (UCL)School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

Previously worked at: Amnesty InternationalWomen's Budget Group,  SMDI Institute at London School of Economics, Women's and Children's Alliance

Find her online


Global Insight International

Feminist Dialogue