Kristin Julbert remembers how she approached her training in the army — by charging straight through the brush.
“I’d come back from it with, you know, a little cactus sticking out of all my clothes and everything,” Julbert says. “But it was because I felt like I needed to show and prove myself and I need to show I was as tough as they were.”
Going into technology was the same way. The tech field is often viewed as a boys club, and the numbers back that up. In 2016, a quarter of computing jobs were held by women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number has been dropping since the early 90’s.
Women tech leaders are even less common, but Julbert is one of the exceptions. She’s responsible for new developments for Regions Bank’s online platforms. Twenty-six employees work directly for her, though others often fall under her team’s direction. She started working in online banking about 20 years ago — well before customers used smartphones to pay their bills.
“Back then it was AOL internet banking,” she says, “which was basically a little floppy disk that you needed to mail to customers to get them to bank with you online and now we’ve come a long way from that obviously.”
She recently spoke at a panel hosted by TechBirmingham. It’s a nonprofit promoting Birmingham’s tech sector. The topic is women in leadership. Julbert told the audience of mostly women what she learned not to do.
“Growing up in technology, I can tell you for sure I thought I had to prove myself and I probably didn’t go about it in the best of ways,” Julbert said during the panel.
Julbert says she would fit work into any hour of the day, starting first thing in the morning. She would pull her laptop into bed and shoot off email after email until she had nearly no time left to get ready for the office. Her evening routine was no better. If she had dinner with the family, it was often rushed to get back to drafting emails.
“I probably did that for about 12 years,” she says. “Longer than anybody probably really physically should be able to.”
It was only in recent years that Julbert started to pull back. She still admits to the occasional early morning email binge, but she’s cut down on filling her off hours with work.
“And I think I’m more effective,” she says. “I’m more effective as a leader. I’m certainly more effective as a parent. And the end result is it’s a positive thing. And so I think we push ourselves sometimes a little harder than we really need to and I do think that’s a tendency, a natural tendency of women.”
This pressure from both the women themselves — and in some cases their workplaces — is one reason so many women drop out of the tech field, according to TechBirmingham’s president, Jennifer Skjellum.
“Hearing about that same situation from other women and how they dealt with it gives them the kind of ammunition they need to be able to react to it,” Skjellum said.
Julbert also has a practical reason to encourage more women in tech — the possibility of even greater advancements in technology.
Not because women are stronger than men or women are better at technology than men,” she says. “That’s not the case. It’s just that balance. That diversity. That difference in how we look at things or how things are actually accomplished. So I think there’s more work to do.”
And Skjellum says part of that is getting men to understand the challenges working women face.