Deborah Thomas

Deborah joined Exasol in April 2018 to drive a communications and content strategy and has since moved into the position of Chief Communications Officer.

With over 25 years in technology communications for enterprises and SMBs, Deborah’s primary areas of focus are driving awareness, brand, and growth by connecting the dots through consistent and creative storytelling and debate.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

At Exasol, the communications team manages a number of areas including public relations (PR), analyst relations (AR), brand awareness, thought leadership, our evangelism program, internal comms, social media, and parts of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. My role is to connect the dots between these disciplines and create conversations, debate, and excitement both internally and externally.

This means finding the right platforms to show the world that we have a voice and something valuable and compelling to say. Our approach to this focuses on telling stories that connect with people on a personal, human level – turning visitors to our content into brand advocates like us, because they can see the vital importance of data in our everyday lives.

I’ve always worked in the technology industry, with my first job being at 3Com. I was there for seven and a half years and worked with some awesome powerhouse women. They inspired me – I watched them own rooms and showed me that women have a voice in this industry too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. Apart from dreaming about working in theatre production, writing stage plays and painting and curating gallery exhibitions, I never put real thought behind a ‘career’. Any ideas, or dreams, always came from a place of passion – not based on a path to a successful career. I fell into technology communications when I joined 3Com and was utterly inspired by my mentors and saw the opportunity for building stories.

I also paint and write stage plays for myself… and still dream.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

2020 was a pretty intense year for Exasol. We became the second organisation to complete a virtual IPO in Europe – the first in Germany. But going public in the midst of a pandemic was challenging. It took a lot of bravery and self-belief, which thankfully paid off – we raised $96m in three and a half days and share prices have shown an upward trend since.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been a few achievements in my journey that I am proud of. From convincing a publishing house to create a brand-new monthly magazine dedicated to our product, to driving a product review programme that saw our product consistently kick the butt of our Goliath competitor. I also created regional thought leadership initiatives that have been adopted globally and had the honour of building Comms teams full of super talented people that inspire me day in, day out.

But I think my proudest achievement so far is creating a seat at the table for the world of Comms and having it recognised as a crucial pillar in a company’s strategy and not buried within a marketing function. Comms rocks!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Finding my own power and my voice. It’s important to be tough and stick to your guns. We can be our own worst enemy at times – over thinking and over analysing situations. But I’ve learnt to trust my voice and get over self-doubt and that has been a major factor to me achieving success in my journey.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Core principles I would give as advice to anyone trying to excel in their career in technology are: to have self-confidence, believe in your knowledge, experiences and answers, and trust your own voice.

Also, never feel guilty asking for a pay rise. I had gone almost two years at a company without a pay rise, despite doing well and getting heaps of recognition. I was worried and nervous about asking for one, so when I finally did it, I did it quietly with loads of justifications. The amazing boss I had at the time said to me “Deb, never, ever feel guilty or hesitant in asking for your worth”. He took the case on and delivered, and then some. I learnt a solid lesson. One reason why women often get paid less than men is because they are less likely to ask. You should never feel bad about asking for what you’re worth.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are still barriers for women working in tech, but I do believe that we are making progress. When I started my career, things were a lot different to what they are now (I hope that’s the case for everyone!). I would often walk into a room dominated by dismissive ‘old school’ men who would talk down to me. At the time, that was (sadly) the norm. But since then, I’ve discovered my own power and voice and have the confidence to stick up for myself and fight for what is right. I urge everyone to uncover their power and own it.

It’s also super important that women support other women too. One C-level woman I used to work with complained that I didn’t dress appropriately during a presentation that I worked my ass off for… and that was her only comment (for the record, I was dressed appropriately. But should that matter? What is appropriate? I think that’s a whole other conversation). Fortunately, my boss at the time told her to jog on.

On the whole though, I’ve been lucky to work with some strong and supportive men and women during my journey who are extremely open-minded, and diversity driven. We need to see more of this across the industry.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies should introduce diversity and inclusion initiatives to support the progression of women working in technology and to raise awareness of this important issue.

At Exasol we have our Diversity Champions – a group of eight Exasolians who come together twice a month to discuss how we, as a business, can continue to create an even more diverse and inclusive workplace. We’re also in the process of rolling out company-wide diversity and inclusion training, which will be part of our onboarding process moving forward.

On top of that we have recently formed our Women in Tech group, which is chaired by Narinder Patti, our finance and insurance sector lead for the UK&I. This is a space where we can get together to share our (or other) inspirational success stories with each other. I love seeing women supporting women, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this great initiative.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

While I don’t have a technical role, I do work in the technology industry as do millions of women covering business areas such as HR, legal, sales, etc. In order to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry more broadly, I’d love to see diversity and inclusion being taught at schools. Teaching how to be more inclusive shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise for Ofsted – it should be formalised, as part of the curriculum, from nursery age onwards.

What students learn in their early years will heavily influence them long after they have left education, even in ways they may not realise. As teachers and educators, there is a duty to prepare students for the world ahead of them. It is important to teach children to understand how our differences do not define us but how we treat others in regards to our differences can.

If the values of individual freedom, mutual respect and acceptance are meaningfully practised in schools, then society, as a whole, will reap the rewards of it in the years to come.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are heaps of podcasts, events and resources out there about female empowerment. I won’t pretend to have engaged with them though, as useful and important as they are for a lot of women. We all have our own path to knowledge and mine always starts with speaking to and engaging with the amazing women around me – from colleagues and friends to other women within my network. We all have stories and experiences to share, and we can learn a lot from one another.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here