Feature Stories

A Welcoming Environment Leads to Giving Back

Jun 28, 2019

In our employee profile series, we highlight Astellas’ commitment to Diversity & Inclusion through exploring the personal stories of employees. In our latest interview, we speak with Associate Manager, Sales Operations, Ken Foster.

When did you join Astellas and what were your initial impressions?

I’ve been with Astellas for 18 years. When I started, I knew right away that Astellas was different. Even after one day on the job, I did not feel as if I had to hide my true self, which was an amazing feeling. I was used to changing pronouns when referring to my husband in the workplace – substituting “she” for “he.” At Astellas, I knew I could be authentic and not have to pause and think about my words before speaking. When I got married almost five years ago, my boss and team threw me a wedding shower. It makes me not want to go anywhere else.

Can you share more about your journey to becoming your authentic self?

I did not acknowledge who I was until college and I think part of that was because of the environment at the time. It was not as bad for me as it was for the generation before mine, when being gay was considered “criminal” behavior, but there was definitely stigma when I was growing up. I remember being called “queer,” a derogatory word the younger LGBTQ+ community now embraces. I am proud that we’ve come this far. Just like the generation before mine challenged the status quo through pivotal moments like the Stonewall Riots, my own generation has spoken up and championed same-sex marriage. All of that makes a difference.

You are a member of both the LGBTQ+ and Military Employee Impact Groups (EIGs) - what work are you most proud resulting from your involvement with these groups?

One of the biggest ways our LGBTQ+ EIG, known as "Together As One" (TAO), has made a difference is through our ally program. When the EIGs began, I think people were happy and accepted the groups as a great addition – but that was it. We wanted to challenge employees to do more and so we began to develop the ally program, distributing ”Safe Place” and ”Ally” pins supporters could wear or put up in their workspaces. The idea behind ally support is that “you don’t have to BE to BELONG.” Now, you see them all around the office, along with ally stickers and pride flags. Apart from the visible display of support these sticker show, they remind people that not only are they accepted at Astellas, but welcomed. We now have over 600 employees who have taken an ally pledge.

Regarding my involvement with the Military EIG (MEIG), both my dad and grandfather served in the military. I would have enlisted as well, but did not think the military would accept a gay man. So working with the MEIG is really my way of giving back to those who have served.

I became involved several years ago when a colleague invited me to serve meals to veterans at a local Fisher House. I loved the experience and have volunteered there regularly since then. This year alone, I am scheduled to coordinate three separate Fisher House volunteer events and lead the MEIG in expanding this program to Fisher Houses across the country.

Whether it’s through the LGBTQ+ EIG or the Military EIG, it’s important for me to give back. Astellas makes it easy to do so. I am grateful for all of the opportunities here – to be my authentic self and to give back so freely to the community.