Jolene Bullock, service director at ADM Computing, based in Canterbury, wants to empower more women and girls to start a career in tech
Within modern society, there is a growing reliance on technology, and as a result, demand for IT skills is at an all-time high. Whilst there is a diverse range of tech jobs out there, offering excellent opportunities, the industry remains male-dominated.
According to career advice site Women in Tech, only one in six tech specialists in the UK are women, only one in 10 are IT leaders and, worse still, despite significant growth in the number of women working in technology and IT roles, female representation in the sector has stalled over the last 10 years.
As a woman who has succeeded in a technical field where she is very much in the minority, Jolene Bullock, service director at ADM Computing, is passionate about increasing gender diversity in the tech sector. “I believe anyone can achieve anything they dream of doing,” says Jolene. “There should be no boundaries set. However, to get women into tech, we need to start much earlier – we need to inspire young girls and raise awareness of the tech careers available to them. I’d like to see more schools offering more life skills to all – not just young women but young men too. Jobs and careers should not be seen as being either male or female. IT is well-paid, enjoyable and you will be judged on your ability and work ethic.”
When Jolene was a young girl, she enjoyed helping her dad build PCs. “My dad was very supportive of my desire to do practical things,” she explains. “He bought me a Commodore 64 computer to encourage me. This may not mean much to your readers, but back in the day, it was quite a thing to have, and I was very proud of it.”
For a number of years, Jolene’s love of computers was just a hobby; she did not think of it as a potential career. When she left school, she trained as a hairdresser and worked at a restaurant in the evenings and newsagents at weekends. “I enjoyed the people, but whenever I got a chance, I would find a way to do something with a computer. Eventually, I enrolled on a study program for a BTEC Level 3 in Information Technology at East Kent College. I worked full time at Tesco while studying full time and finished the course with a triple distinction and a ‘Student of the year’ award.”
After college, Jolene went travelling and worked in Australia for a year. When she returned, she got her first job in IT support and also gained her Microsoft qualifications. In 2007, she joined ADM Computing as a trainee engineer. Jolene’s job was to assist the then nine engineers, who were all male, with support calls on customer sites. Now, sixteen years later, she is the company’s service director, managing a team of over 50 engineers.
ADM Computing provides IT support services, IT projects, cyber security and data management. The award-winning firm was founded in 1984 as a computer shop in Canterbury selling spare parts, and over the years, it has grown to become a managed service provider (MSP), which means it is often responsible for every aspect of a client’s information technology. “ADM Computing has grown as a business and many of our customers have developed at the same time,” says Jolene. “To still be working with some of the same colleagues and customers over a sixteen-year period is incredible.”
As ADM Computing’s service director, Jolene is responsible for ensuring customers’ IT systems are working and secure. “Thousands of people are employed by the organisations whose IT systems we support,” she explains. “Our customers rely on my colleagues and I to do our jobs to the best of our ability. Beyond our direct customers are the services our clients deliver to hundreds of thousands of other people. When I pause to consider what we do, it can seem both incredibly satisfying and daunting.”
Jolene’s management style is to lead by example and be fair, positive, hardworking and honest. She points out that she has an advantage as service director at ADM because she has done the job of the people in her team. “This means I can show, not just tell, if required. However, I recognise that I must have faith in my colleagues. Our scope of work is too large for me to micromanage intelligent people. My role is to create a space where ADM staff work to meet the customers’ needs. This was a lesson I had to learn. Just because I could do something, does not mean I should do something. It’s not fair to the team member if they are not trusted. The individual, and ultimately the client, will suffer if I have not given them the ability to work on their own initiative.”
Jolene admits that she never really set her sights on being a leader – it all just happened organically. “I had ideas on how we could improve the department, make things more efficient and keep the customers happy along the way. I’m a strong believer in that if you keep your staff happy, they will do a better job in keeping customers happy.”
She adds: “I’m passionate about supporting colleagues who have what is these days termed imposter syndrome. I come across team members, especially younger ones, who are so bright and switched on, but it is like they need permission to succeed. I believe everyone can achieve whatever they want in their lives. People sometimes just need an opportunity to thrive. I think fellow business executives could do with stepping back and looking at where we came from and what was important to us before we got here. Those dreams we had at the start are why we are where we are now and maybe we should take time to enjoy them.”
On top of prioritising the ongoing development of staff, wellbeing and training, Jolene and her fellow directors at ADM are trying to encourage more women to consider tech as a career. “It is a personal goal of mine to not simply recruit more female technical people, but to actually get the CVs and enquiries in the first place,” says Jolene. “If we have one problem, it is that we simply do not get the enquiries, and when I speak to other tech leaders, they report the same problem. I hope I can contribute to normalising tech as a career path for women.”
So, how is the company going about this? Jolene explains that ADM Computing recruits based on meritocracy, however, without the CVs and enquiries from women, they have to find other ways to encourage them. “We have increased our engagement with schools and colleges and are now starting to work with primary schools. We have to think about where the next apprentices will be coming from. I look at the youngsters in my team and I am so proud of how well they are doing, but it won’t be long before they have progressed and I will need to fill the next roles. This year and beyond, for us, it’s all about happy staff, succeeding in life, introducing more women into the industry and, of course, making sure the service ADM delivers to our clients is excellent.”