Jacqueline de Rojas
Image Credit: Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images

Jacqueline is the President of techUK and the President of the Digital Leaders board.

She sits as a Non-Executive Director on the board of UK technology business Rightmove plc; on the board of Costain plc, which is committed to solving the nation’s Infrastructure problems; and is also on the board of the online retailer AO World plc. An advisor to fast moving tech businesses and a business mentor at Merryck offering board and executive level coaching. She is the co-chair at the Institute of Coding, advises the board of Accelerate-Her and is especially delighted to lend her support to the Girlguiding Association for technology transformation. Passionate about diversity and inclusion which informs where she places her support.

In 2016 she entered the @Computerweekly Hall of Fame after being voted Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in IT 2015; she was listed on Debretts 2016 500 People of Influence – Digital & Social and named in Europe’s Inspiring Fifty most inspiring female role models for 2017. She was presented with the 2017 Catherine Variety award for Science and Technology and the 2018 Women in Tech Award for Advocate of the Year acknowledging her contribution to diversity. 2018 brought a nugget of acknowledgements including @womenoffuture Fifty #KindLeaders; 2018 @Inclusiveboards 100 BAME Leaders; 2018 Faces of Vibrant Digital Economy; 2018 @Computerweekly Most Influential People in UK IT.

Jacqueline was awarded CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

Happily married to Roger Andrews, they have three children and a new baby grandson.

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

My background is as a trouble shooter to blue chip enterprise software companies.  I have had a thirty-year career as an executive in the software industry but these days I have a portfolio career wearing many different hats. Current plc roles include non-executive director positions at Rightmove, Costain and ao.com.

I am also fortunate enough to be able to donate my time to industry bodies such as techUK as its president, Digital Leaders also as its president and to the Institute of Coding as co-chair alongside Professor Bernie Morley.

I believe in mentoring as a way to unlock potential and am a mentor at the Merryck Group, which focuses on mentoring the leadership teams of global organisations.

To my mind, there is no doubt that diversity can help to safeguard the future of our technology industry by creating a world that works for everyone, I also believe that diversity and inclusion creates more profitable outcomes and am passionate about the importance of boardroom equality and empowering young women to enter, remain and lead from the front in the digital sector.

On a personal note I was born in Folkestone in 1962 to a Chinese father and British mother. Their relationship was not one of equals and we moved away to Swindon where my mother raised my brother and I alone until she remarried some years later. We didn’t have much of anything, family life was not picture perfect by any means but if it taught me anything, it taught me resilience, to become self-sufficient and extremely resourceful. I personally found great solace in the structure and rewards of school life; To this day education and opportunity remain important to me as I have raised and guided our own children.

My husband is incredibly talented and creative. He came from the tech industry but retrained as a yoga teacher and encourages me to be consistent with my practice of yoga and meditation – that is where I get my balance and strength. We have three kids, a grandson, two dogs and a very happy balance of family life and love.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career aspiration was originally to be a newscaster for the BBC. However, as I returned from a degree in European Business from Germany in 1986, I needed to earn money reasonably quickly, so when I was offered a job by my brother-in-law to join his company as a recruitment consultant in a very young but burgeoning technology sector, I grasped it with both hands and very much enjoyed it. I stayed there for a couple of years and was invited to join my largest client, a technology company called Synon (AS/400 application development). They had an international operation that needed a German-speaking leader, so having graduated with a degree in European Business and lived in Germany for some time, the combination of my language and business skills made me invaluable to manage their partner channel internationally! Did I choose technology? I rather feel it chose me…

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

I do recall a tricky moment when being introduced to one of my clients as the new managing director by one of my team. He had his back to me, and as he turned around with great excitement and anticipation only to be entirely disappointed when he saw me. He couldn’t stop himself exclaiming: “Oh my God, you’re a woman!” to which I replied with a smile on my face: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t realise I needed a penis to make a decision! But let’s discuss that over lunch…” I have always found that humour has helped me to diffuse awkward scenarios and often use it to counter what could escalate into unnecessarily difficult outcomes.

I would say that the biggest challenge has been promoting the case for women to be viewed as equals in the workplace and being promoted based on performance. There is a toxic combination of unequal opportunity and unequal pay, which creates a downward spiral. Add to that the lack of affordable child care and inflexible working hours and the playing field is definitely stacked against women

Female representation on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 23.5% in 2015 and is growing as a result of the data and recommendations emanating from the Hampton-Alexander Report. At the time of writing there are still companies in the FTSE 100 which do not yet have any women on their boards. So, whilst things are changing, you could argue that sexism is still holding back over 50% of the population from reaching the very top and that is not to mention all other minority groups that are severely under-represented in tech.

Given the slow increase in the diversity of the talent pool and the increasing use of algorithms that dictate whether you get that university place, that mortgage or even that job interview, we must strive to have minority voices in the design, testing and implementation teams when building our digital world. I believe we must ALWAYS take the opportunity to ask, “Where are the others?”

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been so many things to celebrate throughout my career. I have so many people in my life that I am grateful for and so much support to be thankful for. I rather think that being nominated for a Queen’s honour in 2018 was my major highlight.

I recall an official letter arriving on the doormat and as I sat with my husband going through the post (Yes, we still receive post!), he showed me a very serious-looking envelope, which I waved away and told him to open. I honestly wasn’t paying much attention as he opened the letter because I was busy focusing on the rest of the mail. And then as he paused and gasped, he said that I should read the letter….

At this point I went to my default position of ‘something terrible must have happened’. Roger had tears in his eyes, and I couldn’t bring myself to read it, so he did it for me. It was such a mind-blowing and unexpected moment as well as an enormous honour to be recognised for my work in the technology industry in promoting international trade. To be honest it only became real when we went to Buckingham Palace to receive my CBE in March 2018.

We had great fun getting ready for the occasion; new outfits, practising my curtsey and wondering who would bestow the honour that day. All the children were there – it was incredibly formal but also beautifully executed by the team at the palace and needless to say Prince William was charming, as you would expect a prince to be…

Jacqueline de Rojas

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

One of my life lessons came when crossing the chasm from manager to leader – I wish I had known earlier in my career that I didn’t need to be an alphazilla to make it. There are probably people out there who wished they hadn’t worked for me back then and I take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who found my leadership style aggressive! I guess I was trying to ‘fit in’ with the very male dominated culture that existed then and convinced myself that I had to behave like a man to make it.

Only when I realised that authentic leadership comes from knowing my values, sharing my vulnerabilities and creating space for others to be realise their potential could I transition into a leadership position where I felt the team could scale with infinite possibilities and where a culture existed of inclusion and tolerance.

That really set me free and I realise today that My job is simply to give them permission to be the best that they can be. And they rarely disappoint. Give people space to be amazing – they rarely disappoint.

It is something I often use when coaching others in leadership roles today. Values really matter and not all the great ideas come from the top!

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

My top tip would be to go through a period of self-reflection. Early in my career, I was so swamped with trying to keep up with everybody else. I won’t deny that I suffered from imposter syndrome and self-doubt, all compounded by being a mother to a small child, being half-Chinese and a woman in a management position in the very male-dominated software industry. I needed to find the shortest route to success, and I realised that it was not going to be found by doing it the same way as everybody else. So, I asked myself a simple question: ‘What am I good at?’ And when I stripped it down to the basics, I realised that my core skill is that I am good at solving problems and more than that I have the ability to ‘spot friction’ in the system. So, with that in mind, I branded myself as a trouble-shooter to large enterprise software companies.  Once I had done that I never looked back. In fact, once LinkedIn became ‘a thing’ (Because, of course, the internet and the mobile phone did not exist for businesses until late in my career), I never looked for a job again. They came looking for me….

Top tip then would be: Know what your core skill is and brand yourself that way.

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

Isn’t it bizarre that, as Chairman Mao once said, ‘women hold up half the sky’ in so many ways; economically, domestically and emotionally? We are often seen as a source of strength and backbone under pressure and yet barriers still exist when it comes to opportunities in tech and especially in leadership.

Jacqueline de Rojas

The question is ‘what can we do about it?’ and I am afraid to say that there is probably no silver bullet here; the cavalry is simply not coming. So, it falls to each and every one of us to play our part.

There are so many initiatives which champion not only the cause of women but all forms of diversity and inclusion for underrepresented minorities in tech.

The Tech Talent Charter run by Debbie Forster who advocates precisely how companies can make diversity a priority, ColorInTech which promotes BAME inclusion in tech via research and learning, Founders4Schools founded by Sherry Coutu CBE and which supplies schools across the country with business mentors and role models (Please sign up as a mentor!), the WISE Campaign headed by Helen Wollaston which runs the PeopleLikeMe programme supported by the diversity and skills council at techUK chaired by Sarah Atkinson.

We are so blessed to have incredible momentum created by individuals who just wake up every morning wanting to equal the playing field and I honour the work done by Vanessa Vallelly OBE here at WATC alongside others like the Stemmettes run by Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Code First Girls run by Amali de Alwis MBE,  techmums by Sue Black OBE, the returners programme sponsored by Sheila Flavell COO at FDM, TechPixies by Joy Foster and to Jack Parsons who leads the way to improve the odds for young people every day. This is a small snapshot of the incredible work of what we refer to as the #Sisterhood and our amazing #Manbassadors in UK Tech.

I was privileged to meet the Dalai Lama once and he reminded me that ‘if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’.

With that in mind, the question to ask is ‘are you a bystander or are you a participant?’

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

Join hundreds of other companies in the UK and sign the Tech Talent Charter! Supported by government and advocating simple steps for companies to make a difference to a diverse workforce. Find out more here

Jacqueline de Rojas, Tech Talent Charter launch

There is currently only 15 per cent 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 ask us all to consider one simple question every time we are in a position of influence or challenge: ‘WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?’ If we ask this question at every meeting and every opportunity where it is clear that diversity and inclusion is missing, I am sure we can create momentum for change

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Probably the single thing that separates the UK tech sector from any other tech community on the world is the fact that we have an extremely strong and nurturing network that is actively looking to inspire, recruit and retain diverse talent into the industry.

There is no doubt that we stand on the shoulders of each other and I am grateful for all of the effort and resources within this network to help and support others become successful in their journeys. We are all role models whether we choose to be or not and I believe we lead by example in our sector to create opportunity for all.

The great thing about tech is that there are no barriers to entry so check out your local network via WATC for example, as an individual join Digital Leaders for access to networking and online learning and sharing, join techUK if you are an SME or a large tech business to ensure that your voice is heard when forming government policy, check out TechNations amazing online learning resources for entrepreneurs and start ups and check out the Institute of Coding for courses that can increase your learning in new areas of technology.

As the author of Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st century, Yuval Noah Harari says: ‘It is not the robots you should worry about, it is how you are going to reskill yourself every ten years or less…’

Lifelong learning is a personal responsibility it seems. I make a personal commitment to learn something new every year!

Also I love a good podcast!