How Kristine Became SICK's Leader in Technology and Combats Gender Bias
Growing up in rural Minnesota, Kristine Bollinger, SICK’s Senior Regional IT Manager – North America, never could have imagined she’d one day become the leader of an IT department at a global corporation. She thought she would be a farmer, a teacher or do something around her love for animals.
Spending a lot of time on a farm helped her learn the value of hard work. However, she quickly realized it was not her dream to be a farmer. And it also wasn’t the dream her mother had for Kristine.
“My biggest influence was my mother,” Kristine said. “She was my biggest supporter when it came to dedicating myself to a career. She wanted me to be able to stand on own two feet and support myself.”
Finding Her Passion
As she neared college and still didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with her career, Kristine decided to take a career test at her high school. She was told the best fit for a career was one where she could help people and solved challenges, but the suggested career was a helicopter pilot.
At a loss for what to major in at University of Minnesota Duluth, she ended up choosing accounting since her father was a financial analyst and her mom worked for an accountant. Although she did all the work and got good grades, a counselor noticed she seemed like she needed more challenge in her work. The counselor suggested she go into a technology-focused field to align with her passion.
“I was hesitant at first because I really didn’t know what to do in technology,” Kristine said. “I thought I had to be good at math, which I was not.”
Kristine signed up for a computer programming course to test the waters. The class started out by building a computer from scratch and then program it. At end of semester, she received a note from the professor that she had done a great job and received high marks. She wasn’t even in a computer-related major. And from then on, she found her passion for computers and technology creating a career that ends at SICK.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I can do this and it was easy and I had so much fun, this is going to be my career,’” She said. “The most exciting part of it was the problem solving. When faced with a challenge, I like to create solutions that are long term and working in technology allows me to do that.”
Embracing Her Passion
Now that Kristine found her passion thanks to a college counselor’s recommendation, she was ready to enter the workforce in technology. She graduated from University of Minnesota Duluth with a degree in Management Information Systems and worked various jobs in help desk, technical support, programming, software setup, server support, training, leadership, and more leading her to SICK.
“I’ve been in IT number of years now and I’ve always been focused on pursuing a career that helped change the world and help others better understand technology,” Kristine said. “There’s hundreds of ways to be in technology and all can change the world.”
Balancing Her Passion
As Kristine progressed in her career, she was often asked how she balanced being a career in technology and being a wife and mother. Kristine has two daughters and works very hard to accomplish the right balance between work and family life. In IT, it is particularly hard to have appropriated work-life balance because IT systems don’t just shut down when the day ends. There are upgrades that need to happen or potential security breaches that could happen and need to be fixed.
Kristine recalls when her oldest daughter was younger asking when Kristine was going to come home. She realized she hadn’t seen her in the mornings or at dinner for a few days because she was so focused on a project at work.
“My daughter taught me a valuable lesson about balance that day,” Kristine said. “In order to accomplish this, it’s important to work for a good company that understands you’re needed at home as much as you are at work. It’s all about making choices. Nobody is prepared for motherhood; we just do our best and hope our children’s dreams come true.”
Kristine also prioritizes time for herself and discovery. How can you balance the outside world if you aren’t balanced yourself? She focuses on exercise, drawing, and reading for self-development.
“Life is about choices. I want to demonstrate for my daughters that they shouldn’t let anyone tell them that they can’t work in technology,” Kristine said. “I want my daughters to know that they have choices and not be told what they can or can’t do just because of their gender.”
Fighting for Her Passion
As a woman in a male-dominated field, Kristine has experienced gender bias in a number of different ways. From something as easy as a very technical job description that may deter women from applying to not being hired because she may want to have a family someday; Kristine has experienced it all.
“Biases are everywhere. There will always be people out there that are going to have questions or challenge me based on my technical knowledge as a female,” Kristine said. “At this point, I’ve learned that I can only control how I respond to it. Early on this behavior bothered me a lot more, but I’ve gotten used to it and now it just amuses me.”
But Kristine takes all this negative energy and funnels into helping others. She works hard to combat bias by simply creating awareness. Many do not even know they are creating bias so having a simple conversation and moving on can help resolve that. She also is active in a number of women’s groups (both at SICK and outside of it) to help support other women and get her experience out there so people know they are not alone.
“I like to encourage other women and let them know I’m here to listen. It’s my hope that they will continue to drive forward and excel in the technology field rather than leave it,” she said. “I’m sad to say I’ve heard of women leaving because they don’t like being the only woman in the department. But I didn’t give up and I’m hoping other women hear my story and continue to work at it.”
Overall, Kristine’s passion for technology has remained strong throughout her time at SICK, despite any challenges or gender bias she may experience.
“I love tinkering around with technology. It really can do amazing things to make the world better,” Kristine said. “It helps people save lives. It helps people have lives.”