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Women in Tech: Meet One of the UK’s Top Business Leaders Jacqueline de Rojas

Level 3

I first met Jacqueline de Rojas at our UK Vision Solution Day in London during November 2017 where she delivered an impressive closing speech to the event. And again, at our recent Women in Tech evening held on this year’s International Women’s Day. Each time I’ve met and heard Jacqueline speak I’ve learnt new things and taken away tips to work on. So, I thought it would be good to get to know Jacqueline a little more in this interview blog and share some of her wisdom and experience.

Jacqueline de RojasJacqueline de Rojas

Zoe: Hi Jacqueline, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule today to answer these questions for our social media followers and blog readers. Can you start with setting the scene and share with me how you got into tech?
I left school to do a degree in European Business Studies which I chose to do in Germany. It was the best decision I ever made in terms of understanding other cultures and learning how to thrive in another country with a different language. When the course ended I came back to the UK with an ambition to become a newscaster on the BBC. Sadly, they did not come knocking and with a pressing need to pay the bills, I took a role in technology recruitment and after two years went to work for my largest tech client. The job I got was to lead communications and drive business with their German partner - so it was languages that got me into technology! I rather think the industry found me #Serendipity!

Zoe: What do you enjoy most about working in tech in the UK?
Mostly the people! They are smart, connected, friendly and full of ideas. We are an island nation used to trading globally so that makes us independent, spirited and in my experience, we tend to look outwards not inwards. Our UK technology network is very special and very connected. We have been told many times that, compared to other countries and specifically compared to Silicon Valley, the women’s network in tech in this country is very nurturing and supportive. I advise all women in tech to get connected to existing networks and become part of the support system.

I love the fact that we have so much going for us and that makes Britain the best place to start and grow a business: We have a system of contractual law that gives investors the highest possible levels of confidence, overseen by an internationally respected and totally independent judiciary; We have a skilled workforce and low levels of industrial disruption; People rightly talk about London as an international financial and cultural powerhouse but how many people know that the north-east of England, as a region, now exports more cars than the whole of Italy?; We have a low tax economy with some of the lowest business taxes in Europe and have one of the least regulated economies; Our corporate tax rates are among the lowest in the G20 and are set to get even lower; We have an internationally respected research base and some of the best universities in the world; We are home to 18 of the world’s top 100 universities, and 4 of the top 10; In areas such as financial services we have an unrivalled professional class able to give support; We have the natural advantage of speaking English and we are in the perfect time zone for global trade – we can conclude business with China in the morning and resume business with the US in the afternoon.

We have the most flexible workforce in Europe, which makes our businesses much agiler. All we need now is to crack the diversity question.

Zoe: What do you think it will take for this country to seize its place as a digital nation of significance?
We are already a global leader in establishing and growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) companies. In a recent survey of 654 European AI companies, 40% are in the UK. A new UK AI company is being founded on a weekly basis. The UK already has a leadership position and we have a growing international reputation for producing some of the most cutting-edge and exciting AI firms of the last few years.

However, to continue this course and stay abreast of the competition, there are a few things we need to address and get right. Firstly, we must get Brexit right and make sure we are still an attractive place to grow and innovate a tech business. A crucial part of this will be ensuring the UK remains a global hub for data flows. The UK currently represents roughly 3% of global GDP, but 11.5% of global data flows, demonstrating its significance. Securing mutual adequacy decisions with the EU will help retain that position. We must also bring everyone along the AI journey with us and that means ensuring we have the diversity needed to make sure that the tech that is developed reflects the needs of our society. We also need to address the big ethical questions around data and the future of work that AI will bring. The UK has already shown global leadership in this through the creation of the Council for Data Ethics and Innovation, highlighted in the Prime Minister’s recent Davos Speech. 

If we get these right, we will certainly seize our place as a digital nation of significance.

Zoe: How has your management style developed over the years?
The technology industry that I entered 30 years ago was so male-dominated that they told me they simply don’t put women on the leadership team. So, I spent my early career emulating what the men did, being a scary boss lady, eating razor-blades for breakfast and being a terrifying alpha female. And to be honest it worked to a certain level! I was successful but I was not fulfilled. It took me ten years to realise that I was always going to be disappointed, always going to be an angry feminist banging my head against the glass ceiling, not because I was a woman in a man’s world but that I was a woman trying to be a man in a man’s world. My own self-limiting belief was that you had to be a man to make it. And that is simply not true.

It makes a difference that I am less insecure than I was in my younger days, which makes me a more empathetic leader. So, these days my leadership style is much more empowering. I like to give people the space to become the best versions of themselves. There are no razor blades insight and I am not an alphazilla! 

Zoe: What would you suggest makes a good leader?
Historically, emotion has been a quality that was believed to be best kept out of the workplace, but research shows that using emotional intelligence can be integral to effective leadership. In my career, I use emotional intelligence and this is how I’ve differentiated myself. I have spent the majority of my career in troubleshooting where having a team that operates well under pressure is essential. Connecting with the team on an emotional level has meant that the team would go above and beyond to achieve the mission. Yet, I also recognise that many women do not have the confidence to embrace their emotional intelligence as an asset, so it is an enlightened confidential leader who gives women the confidence to behave empathetically.

In the technology industry, where there is a shortage of talent, it is expected that companies will have to start working harder to keep hold of their female employees. Employers will need to work harder at adopting a flexible working attitude, otherwise, people will simply vote with their feet.

Interestingly many women returners come back from maternity leave with a loss of confidence or worse they, too often, don't come back because of a lack I self-confidence. It’s shocking to see the confidence drain of highly talented women, however with some mentoring and support from a network, women can get back on track. In search of a solution for the industry, techUK launched a ‘Returners Hub’ in March 2017 to help women in the technology sector returning from career breaks. The hub connects women with companies which run specific returner programmes, provides training materials and mentorship programmes, and helps tech companies create returner programmes.

Training should be required, not just for those negotiating salaries but those on the other side of the table too. There seem to be two types of women in these situations. The first is a woman trying to be a man in a man’s world and typically come across as overly aggressive. The second type, which represents the majority of women in this situation, leads with an apology: “I’m sorry to have to ask you this but ...” or “It may not be the right time but ….” I believe that training could have a big impact on those asking and negotiating but also training should be given to those managers listening to the ask. By listening to more than what is actually being said and by understanding how women express themselves, a manager takes a step to the next level.

 Zoe: Who are your role models and influencers?
I take my inspiration from so many sources. My husband is without question the backbone of my life. Along with my daughter who is such a special person with a lot of heart and humanity and of course, our two boys, who are caring, smart and dependable. My family is everything to me and we spend a lot of time making memories together.

In life, I have my own mentors, who are very precious sounding boards. The power of mentoring is so important and I would urge everyone to either have one or become one. It is a wonderful opportunity for mutual learning and connection. On a grand scale, I would have to point to the Dalai Lama - his generosity knows no bounds and I try hard to play the generosity game whenever I can. 

And then my mother, who has been through so much in her own life. I just look at her and wonder how she turned out to be so perfect.

Zoe: What advice would you give to women wanting to get into tech?
This is our time. We have momentum, we have an industry that is crying out for talent and having diverse teams makes good business sense. 

We are simply creating more jobs than we can fill - by 2020 we will have close to a million unfilled roles in our sector. So, with only 17% of female representation in tech, approximately 10% in cyber and even less in engineering roles, we have an opportunity to fill those jobs by turning to the women. Just as an interesting statistic, there are 2 million women returners who would like to return to work but are unable due to caring commitments.

Gender diversity also makes business sense. A Leeds University Business School study (Women in the boardroom help companies succeed - 2009 – Professor Nick Wilson LUBS) highlighted that having just one woman on the board of a business has been shown to reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20 percent and that percentage increases as more women are included.

Go for it! Seek role models, be role models and do research into the area you would like to get into. It is always a good start to network with women who work in your dream job. I can guarantee that if you reach out to someone in the industry they will make time to either introduce you to someone who can help you or will give you time to meet with you and discuss their path.

Also, remember that paths into tech are not always traditional – don’t be disheartened if you studied something other than computer science; many people find their way into tech in different ways. I am a business studies and language graduate, so creative paths are also super useful.

Zoe: What do you think the next years hold for women in IT?
With the Government-backed Tech Talent Charter (TTC) initiative now launched, where organisations commit to a set of undertakings that aim to deliver greater diversity in the UK tech workforce, I do hope we will see tech workforces better reflect the population. With more companies signing on, we will see the scope of the TTC grow and it will hopefully be a catalyst for quantifiable increases in the number of women in tech. 

As the success of initiatives, such as returners programmes, become clear through greater levels of data and information, the business case for diversity will speak for itself. Just one woman on the board of a business can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20%. A team with varied experiences and background will produce richer, more considered ideas. Gender diverse companies are 45% more likely to improve market share, achieve 53% higher returns on equity, and are 70% more likely to report successfully capturing new markets. Increased diversity is a no-brainer.

The current direction of travel is positive, but we cannot ignore that we must continue to #PressforProgress and remove gender bias in the tech industry if we are to be able to keep pace with the number of jobs being created in tech and if we want diversity of thought inside our businesses. 

Zoe: You were recently awarded a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II - tell us about that…
I was completely blown away by the generosity of the enormous number of people who nominated me for this honour. It made me feel humble and grateful and I am very much looking forward to the Investiture which is at the end of March. Life doesn't get much better than a signed letter from her Majesty.

Zoe: Finally, when you're not busy with your work commitments what do you like to do in your spare time?
I am very lucky that my husband is a yoga teacher. He is my North Star when it comes to finding balance and he gives me the space to meditate, to practice yoga and to get my body moving when I could so easily slip into a life of total 'screen time’. We have a very demanding garden, which gives us a reason to get outside and get active and we also have four lovely dogs who make sure we don’t become couch potatoes. Apart from that, we spend a lot of time together with our three kids and their partners whether that’s celebrating Chinese New Year together, an Ed Sheeran concert or even a night in shouting at the television on Eurovision Song Contest night.

As a final thought, in the end, it all comes down to me. I am not a person who expects anything or feels entitled. I suppose I discovered that nobody else but me could make the shift needed to catapult my life to a whole different level. From a mindset of not worthy to worth it, from management to leadership and from being the kind of woman that makes other women want to up their game. 

So that concludes Jacqueline’s interview blog, I hope you found the post interesting. Please share your comments below. And if you have any tips and experiences to share with women in tech, then please feel free to add your views below in the comments box. Thanks!