An interview with Julie Plumb

Julie Plumb

We caught up with Julie Plumb, award-winning Digital Strategist, speaker, trainer, coach, strategist and expert based in Cardiff.

We haven’t yet interviewed someone who has told us that their dream career growing up was to be in digital marketing. And Julie is no different, in fact, growing up she wanted to do something in science but was dissuaded by a disillusioned career advisor.

“I remember telling the careers advisor that I wanted to do forensic science and she was really unhelpful and suggested maybe I look at something more ‘female-friendly’ like nursing.” 

Julie explains that her current position came about through a series of different jobs and roles.

“I left school halfway through my A-levels at 17 and took a YTS job in a school as a lab technician. They only used to last 6 months so I found myself in the Job Centre and my mum pointed out a job in the local factory in the Computer Department. 

Well, I read a lot of science fiction (and still do) and quite fancied working with huge computers so went for the interview. It was actually quite dull and involved delivering printouts, so I jumped at the chance to go and work in the Computer Room when a job came up – and was completely discouraged from doing it by my boss because it was all ‘boys’ in there. I got a job as a Trainee Computer Operator and when I left 5 years later I was Operations Supervisor.

My next role was at Nottingham Trent University where I managed to pick up the bug for lifelong learning, including doing my MSc in Networked Information engineering. It was whilst there that I built one of the first 23,500 websites in the world – to put that in context there are now almost 2 billion.

Since then I’ve worked in financial services at Capital One, Egg and Alliance & Leicester, in hospitality with Punch Taverns, in manufacturing with Ericsson. I also returned to Nottingham Trent as their Head of Web Department. I’ve also worked for consultancies and now manage my own digital consultancy.”

Julie is proud of several accomplishments she has achieved in her career, including being a woman in IT in the ’80s, thriving as a trailblazer without realising that she was! Some of her most notable achievements including her graduation day for her MSc Networked Information Engineering degree, getting her team recognised by Investors in People, being a finalist in an award for leading a B2B e-commerce site and getting the runner up award for Women in STEM in 2019.

I think I’m determined but like to have fun with my determination. I’ve always been a big-picture person so don’t get bogged down in the issues – I think there is always a solution.” 

Julie’s advice for women looking to start their own business is to find a niche and utilise your experience to follow what brings a spark of excitement. The Independent reported that: “The average Briton will spend 3,507 days at work including 204 days of overtime in their lifetime.” For the amount of time we spend at work, you should enjoy your work!

When it comes to owning your own business, Julie is realistic about the amount of time you need to put into it. 

“If it is mainly you in the business then there are just not enough hours in the day. You have to work out what you are good at and what brings you joy doing and then outsource the rest.

We now have opportunities as entrepreneurs and business owners to be free from an old-fashioned ‘tethered’ office and be able to live a laptop lifestyle. I can work from my co-working space, my home or a coffee shop. But this can also lead to an ‘always on’ lifestyle with mobile phones and tablets. It’s so easy to be watching TV and still be online working. Twenty years ago you could leave the office and leave work behind more easily. 

I try and break down my day into chunks. I have things that I have to do outside of work, like the school run, so it breaks me away from technology and work for a little while. 

I’m relatively good at unplugging and do just that by putting down my mobile/laptop/ tablet and reading. I’ve always found reading relaxing and will read just about anything, but love to immerse myself in sci-fi or post-apocalyptic fiction and let the stress slip away.

My advice for people who spend a lot of time in digital is that you need to set boundaries. There has to be ‘on time’ and ‘off-time’. It can be tricky when you’re a business owner, especially a start-up, as you just want to get cracking. You need to ensure you factor in the ‘off-time’ to spend time with your family and time with yourself.”

We asked Julie if she felt that young women in education are told that they can achieve a career in STEM.

“My industry is IT and no I don’t think women are encouraged. I didn’t think so at the time, but I was lucky that I went to a girls’ school that encouraged interest in the sciences. Very often in mixed schools, the sciences are seen as more of a of boys’ subject.”

She also agrees that there is a lack of women role models and mentors in the industry.

“There are more female role models in the digital world these days, but still not enough. I think more need to be seen doing the job, and at high levels, and that it’s treated as just a matter of fact, not the exception. This may seem a bit weird but I love the way Biggleton on Cbeebies does this – they mix up all those traditional gender roles and switch them about.”

When it comes to being discriminated against for her gender, Julie has quite a few experiences of it to list.

“I have so many examples and there are probably loads of incidents that probably passed me by!

When I was promoted to shift leader in my 20s the male ICL engineers used to refuse to speak to me for hardware fixes as I couldn’t possibly be in charge. One, in particular, used to insist on talking to the male trainee in my team. I called them out on it and told them that they wouldn’t get anything agreed as fixed without my signature.

In another company, again the only female on the team, I was constantly referred to as the admin assistant by the engineers. Again, I called them out on it. I had tried speaking to my boss but it was brushed off as a boys will be boys. 

In my first job in the Computer Room, all the guys wore jeans and a t-shirt. Women weren’t allowed to wear trousers in the office. I started wearing jeans too and was told by the IT Director, in front of everyone else, that if he saw me in those jeans again he would rip them off me. Probably ill-advised (I was only 19) but I told him I’d punch him flat if he ever tried. 

In an interview for a local manufacturing company for a similar role to the one I was doing (but slightly more money), I was asked if I had a boyfriend and was I thinking of getting married and maybe looking to have kids. I was quite young at the time (20-21) and wasn’t aware of the equality law, but I knew it wasn’t right and that wasn’t something he would have asked a male interviewee. 

Loads of incidents where I’ve been in meetings or conferences where it’s just assumed that I am not a technical person at all. I usually let them get on with showing off their technical prowess and then just chip in and watch their jaws drop! When I was a programme manager I was in a meeting with the Unix techies (they didn’t know that I used to be a Unix admin looking after DNS) and they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes about how difficult a task was and how long it would take – until I just casually mentioned exactly how to do it.”

Even with the furore around campaigns such as #MeToo and big companies being called on to publish their gender pay gaps, the state of gender equality, particularly in the tech sector, leaves a lot to be desired. Even in 2020.

According to CW Jobs, nearly one in three women (30%) in tech have been told they only got a certain job because of their gender. A further 31% report they’ve been told that they are ‘too pretty’ to work in the sector they are in. Nearly one in four women (23%) say they’ve experienced promotion discrimination because of gender and over half (51%) of women in tech say that someone has implied their gender may prohibit their career.

Like many women who work in tech, Julie works in a traditionally male-dominated industry and feels as though she must prove herself more than her male counterparts.

“For me, it’s also the industry I’m in because it’s always been such a male-dominated industry. I have constantly had to prove myself more than male counterparts. I even find that now I have to tell people about my career background just to prove my knowledge and experience.”

When it comes to key trends of 2020, Julie is optimistic about the future of women in tech.

“I think 2020 is going to continue to be big for social media and that is an area that a lot of women are starting to find their feet in. Cybersecurity is going to get bigger and be a skill that’s in great demand. Women only make up 20% of the cybersecurity workforce, but that is up from 11% in 2013, so I think there are several opportunities there.”

Women in Tech wrote that only one in six tech specialists in the UK are women, only one in ten are IT leaders and despite significant growth in the number of women working in IT roles, female representation in the tech sector has stalled over the last ten years.

There are only two ways forward. Either this stagnation continues or more women enter the IT sector.

Find Julie on the following social media platforms:







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