Jacqueline de Rojas CBE
"There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made" ~ Michelle Obama
what do you do?
What is your typical day like?
These days I have a portfolio of roles so I would describe myself as more of a 'tapas girl' than a 'full English’. So there is no longer the concept of a typical day for which I am eternally grateful as everything is so varied. I hold a number of board positions at smart infrastructure firm Costain so I might find myself wearing high vis in a sewage tunnel at Bermondsey, or I might be working with the Rightmove team on cyber initiatives or possibly at FDM thinking about how to close the skills gap in tech. I might find myself with technology chiefs devising ways for the tech industry to help drive economic recovery post pandemic. I may be mentoring industry leaders through my role at the Merryck Group or possibly fulfilling a speaking engagement to promote diversity and inclusion in tech. I might even be discussing ways to create STEM opportunities at the Girlguiding Association so bucket loads of variety, which I love!
What is your favourite aspect of the STEM industry?
My favourite aspect of the STEM industry in the UK is the strength that we have created in the culture of collaboration and support that defines our network of advocates who take every opportunity to demand a level playing field for all. We are fortunate to have a UK network of hundreds of women and men who are prepared to use their voices and their influence to ensure that we improve conditions for those that need it. Collaboration is often not just about who is leading but about who has useful ideas and contributions.
A bright idea can come from anywhere, but if conversations are limited to an exclusive few, you are likely to miss the next innovation or fail to spot challenges that you may face.
And the best way to ensure effective collaboration at a company level is through networks where people can get together, think through the issues they face and spot the similarities.
One of the things I’m hugely proud of through my work as President of techUK, is our role in bringing together people and companies to help them network and explore collaboration. It’s only one part of the work techUK does, but it is immensely valuable to many of our members.
Long may this collaboration continue. If you only take three things away: diversity is where you will build your competitive advantage, we stand on the shoulders of each other and networking really matters #strongertogether
What do you feel, being a successful woman in such a male-dominated industry?
That I am enough.
In my 20s and 30s I clung on to a self-
limiting belief which was that 'you had
to be a man to make it.' It took me years to realise that I was always going to be disappointed, always going to be angry and 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.
I lacked the authenticity and value system that now informs everything I do. Life is a lot simpler when I bring my authentic self and when I bring my whole self, which includes my vulnerabilities and not knowing all the answers.
I also realised that whilst I am incredibly resilient, asking for help is not a weakness but a strength. It builds collaboration and creates space for others to be amazing.
Do you have any other advice for women entering male-dominated fields?
Be your authentic self. The days when you had to hide your feminine side or your lifestyle are long gone. Be yourself and be proud and demand that people accept you for who you are. Its not about fitting in anymore but adding value and the more diverse a team are the more likely they are to deliver a product that is fit for purpose and for a wider customer base. A Deloitte study indicated that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments and gender-diverse companies are 155 more likely to outperform their peers (McKinsey & Company)
Women represent 47% of the UK workforce but women make up only 17% of the UK’s TECH workforce. And only 15% of the entire tech workforce comes from an ethnic background. This has got to change and not just for women but to embrace diversity in all its forms: gender of course, introverts, extroverts, those on the neurodiversity scale, regional differences and of course ethnicity. Being of Chinese heritage myself, I feel this keenly as we watch the world demand a level playing field for all. But WHY does diversity matter? I am going to offer you three reasons: First because equality is a noble cause - whom among us does not believe in equality of opportunity for all? And if that wasn’t enough, the second reason why it matters is because it is proven that diverse teams simply make better business decisions 87% of the time . For example, one woman on the board of a business can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20% Finally and perhaps what’s top of my mind is that whilst AI and machine learning can lead to positive outcomes most of the time, they can equally lead to unintended consequences….Witness the doctor who could not access the gym because the swipe card would not activate the lock, after several attempts to unlock the door the techies were called in and it turns out that doctor had been designated as a male job title and that is why SHE could not gain access! A small example of the bias that is endemic but when extrapolated to pilots and aeroplanes the consequences could be devastating. Let’s face it the enormity of importance that technology now has in our projects, we must get this right. If decisions are increasingly made by algorithms which decide whether you get that job interview, that place at uni or that loan, we had better make sure the teams that design, build and test them are diverse, otherwise we are in danger of creating a digital future that does not work for everyone. Our lives ARE more dependent on technology than ever before and most importantly machines and software LEARN from its environment, so the data that they learn from must be representative of the community it serves. If we are to thrive in a digital future which includes everybody, we must ensure that we have all of our voices heard when it comes to designing, building and testing technology solutions. If we do not, we risk creating a world which continues to perpetuate biases. In the words of my favourite AI guru, Dame Wendy Hall: “if it is not diverse. It’s simply not ethical..."
Is there one thing you would like to see changed in your field?
It would be a joy to see a culture shift towards including more minorities in tech with a particular emphasis at leadership level. That way we will ensure that diversity and inclusion is properly built into the fabric of our industry and secures a digital future that has inclusion at its heart.