Dolly Gulliford featured

Inspirational Woman: Dolly Gulliford | Head of Operations, Passenger

Dolly GullifordDolly Gulliford is Head of Operations at UK public transport app and website provider, Passenger. Passenger delivers scalable technology to public transport operators of all sizes, including mobile app ticketing, travel information apps, and websites.

Dolly is a highly experienced business leader in the entertainment, media and travel industries, across both public service and corporate environments. She worked for the BBC for 8 years driving a dedicated gender equality initiative known as the 50/50 project, which championed the increased use of female expert speakers and presenters in the news. Dolly has also been at the forefront of major campaigns including managing an operational marketing exercise for P&O Cruises, where her team arranged for seven ships holding 40,000 passengers to sail down the Solent in formation as a fleet. Having joined Passenger in April 2021, Dolly plays a crucial role in supporting the company’s rapid exponential growth she leads on day-to-day operations of the business, including HR.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

As Head of Operations, I look after the day-to-day running of the business in terms of HR, finance and contracting. I was brought on to support Passenger’s rapid exponential growth, as the company has won a lot of new business and contracted multiple new clients over the past year, as well as expanding its teams. My role is very hands-on and diverse, and I’ve learned a huge amount in a short space of time already.

Prior to Passenger, I worked for a couple of large companies and after several years, I wanted a change of scenery, and I was keen to find an energetic, dynamic company which had ambition. Although I don’t come from a tech background,I realised it was an industry with huge potential. It’s fast-moving, driven by creativity, and continually relevant in our modern world.

I now know that working for a tech company is what I needed to keep stimulated and engaged in my career. I love to keep abreast of new technology and new ways of communicating, and Passenger is a great example of a company which invests in platforms which help improve people’s lives – both for clients and its own employees. I’ve had to learn the functionality of between 12 to 15 platforms just to do my job every day, but they’re very simple to use and help me work as efficiently as possible – so I would never want to be without them now!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At the beginning of my career, I did plan a different path to the one I’m on now but in retrospect, it wouldn’t have suited me. I’ve taken many risks in my career, including living and working abroad, and they’ve all produced amazing opportunities which have given me great adventures and memories.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

One of the biggest challenges was holding down a full-time career and following my ambitions while raising a family as a single mum 24/7 for 10 years. Sadly, there’s still a stigma in our society associated with single working mums who commit to high-powered jobs, and I didn’t quite realise how challenging it would be until I started doing it. I had to ignore the judgement from others and just get on with it, and by doing so I managed to achieve things I never dreamt of before, like being offered a senior role in the BBC. I didn’t tell anyone senior I was a single working mum at first because in a way, I felt it made me look weaker – but in retrospect, I wish I’d been more open about it and shown others in a similar position what they could achieve. Regardless of this, I’m proud to be a role model to my children and they’ve grown up to be incredibly independent, well-rounded individuals with strong career aspirations of their own.

More recently, another hurdle has been having to learn the different terminology and functionality of different systems that come with working in tech. However, not coming from a tech background hasn’t been a hindrance – my mission is to get closer to this different language and make it more relatable and understandable for others. To be truly successful, it’s vital that tech companies employ people who bring fresh perspectives, and a diverse workforce to cut through the jargon to help them connect with the ‘real world’.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I helped the BBC drive a dedicated initiative I was particularly passionate about, known as the 50/50 project, with the aim to gain an equal gender balance across content. My role involved inputting into a database of female experts, which journalists could go to when needing commentary for news stories and features. There was a significant disproportion of women used as speakers for tech-related topics, for example, even though they did exist! I was always pushing journalists to actively seek out female experts and use them, to gain an equal balance of voices across stories. As a result of our work, the project was picked up and is used now by many internationally recognised establishments like Forbes and Harvard Business School.

I’ve also led on some really exciting campaigns in my career, such as managing an operational marketing exercise for P&O Cruises, where we arranged for seven ships holding 40,000 passengers to sail down the Solent in formation as a fleet. It was a massive logistical challenge as it had never been done before, but it paid for itself, as the response we got was incredible. I also previously worked  as one of the department heads of the Live Music & Events Team  for the BBC and in 2018, I led on the financial planning for a huge music event, hosting live events in the four nations for several different radio stations, broadcast live on television.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Taking risks in a role where I wasn’t sure of the outcome was key to getting to where I am today. I’ve experienced so much as a result of taking those risks and it’s given me the confidence to aim higher, and achieve things I never imagined before.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t be intimidated by the language or requirements listed for a job role. Too many women only apply to roles where they align with every single criteria stated on a job post, but it means they miss out on so many opportunities. If there’s something that interests you, don’t be intimidated by the language of a job post, and don’t limit yourself to one type of industry either. Just because you don’t have a specific qualification doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing a better job than someone who does!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

In the past, there was a perception that some tech companies had an almost ‘frat boy’ mentality which would certainly put many ambitious women off working for that company. However, I think this is a perception which is changing. Passenger is certainly working hard to change this perception and to attract a more diverse workforce.

Having a football table in the break-out room, for example, is not enough of an incentive for many candidates to be attracted to within a business. In addition, the more we demystify the understanding of tech products and how they can enrich our lives, and work collaboratively across all functions in a business, the more we’ll attract the right talent across the whole demographic in society.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology? 

I think there’s more the industry could do to make technology a more appealing career choice. Companies need to promote women’s interests and show other women leading by example, to inspire others.

A lot of tech mediums, such as video games, portray women in an unrelatable way because they’re developed by men. To help women progress in their career and see what they could achieve, companies need to show them examples of successful women - whether that’s encouraging them to attend webinars or corporate events featuring female speakers, or giving them relevant reading materials written by women.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would increase the awareness of how tech companies actually operate, demonstrating how they deliver products in a similar way to more traditional businesses.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Before I started my current role, I was advised to look at a few reading materials including two books, which I found fascinating and champion the roles of women working in tech and transport. They were  "Invisible Women - Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men" by Caroline Criado Perez and "Door to Door" by Edward Humes which details an organisation called LOL - Ladies of Logistics - set up by a group of dynamic women in the States who couldn't find a networking model to suit them and has grown massively. I found that very inspiring.

What are you excited about in your role, and what are the elements you feel most passionate about?

I’m most excited about the potential growth for Passenger and playing an instrumental role in enhancing and expanding the business on a larger scale. A key mission for Passenger is to help speed up the UK’s journey to  help combat climate change, and this really aligns with my belief that as a society, we all have a collective responsibility to do what’s right for the benefit of our planet and future generations. I’m proud to be part of a company which is genuinely committed to making a difference, through making shared sustainable transport more attractive.

Why do you think it’s important for more women to work in the tech/transport industries?

We need to represent society equally, across all industries – that way, we can serve our customers best. We need to remember that our end users are both women and men, so our products and services should appeal to everyone.

From a personal perspective, I believe it’s important that my children and other young women are exposed to others they can aspire to, through everyday mediums like the TV and internet. My daughter says she wants to become a businesswoman when she grows up, like me, and that makes me incredibly proud because I’ve shown her what she can achieve if she puts her mind to it. She doesn’t have a fear of aiming high, and neither should anyone else.

What are your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in the transport/tech industries right now?

One of the biggest challenges is the perception of buses in this day and age. On a national scale, buses aren’t deemed an appealing mode of transport compared to cars. London is slightly bucking the trend as everyone uses public transport, however it’s more out of necessity than anything else – with more efficient and frequent systems in place. Rural areas are behind but improving – especially now the National Bus Strategy has landed. All of us in our industry, alongside the government, have a role to play in improving public transport capabilities and making it more attractive in every part of the UK.


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