Jacqueline de Rojas CBE is president of techUK, chair of the Digital Leaders board as well as sitting as a non-executive Director on the boards of Rightmove, Costain and AO World plc. Jacqueline serves on the Government’s Digital Economy Council, as well as being co-chair at the Institute of Coding, an adviser to the board of Accelerate-Her, advisor to fast moving tech businesses and a business mentor at Merryck. As a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, Jacqueline is especially delighted to lend her support to the Girlguiding Association for technology transformation.
“…Statistics suggest one women on the board of a company can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20% and that increases as the number of women increases. We should all look at diversity in terms of business benefit and productivity…”
Learning how to thrive in another country
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 and in another language.
When the course ended I came back to the UK with an ambition to become a newscaster on the BBC. Sadly, that was not to be 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 landed was to drive business with their German partner – so it was languages that got me into technology! I rather think the industry found me more than I found IT!
Becoming a digital trouble-shooter
IT was a very male dominated industry when I started in the late 80s (and sadly remains so today) and I needed to find ways to survive and drive my way to the top. After understanding the need for personal branding, I realised that my core skill sets all revolved around problem solving and styled myself as a trouble-shooter, which launched a wonderfully satisfying 30-year career with enterprise software companies who needed to accelerate growth.
As someone who cares deeply about making a difference, it is a thrill to work with people to unlock their potential and to build teams that thrive under pressure.
Developing a flexible portfolio career
Life is super exciting these days – I run a flexible portfolio career: I sit on a number of boards of listed companies as a non-executive director at Rightmove, Costain and AO.com, and also I sit on three further boards serving the technology industry as president of techUK, chair of Digital Leaders and the co-chair of the Institute of Coding.
Alongside this I have a couple of advisory roles for UK technology businesses and I am a mentor at Merryck & Co – mentoring is the gift that keeps on giving. I certainly gain so much in terms of my own personal development from my mentoring experience.
Gratitude for being awarded a CBE for services to International Trade in the Technology Industry
Oh my gosh, there are so many things to be grateful for! Firstly, it was a four-month journey from the letter plopping on the doormat at the end of November advising that I was going to be given an honour by HRH the Duke of Cambridge to the actual date in March at Buckingham Palace.
The letter asked me not to tell anyone for five weeks until the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List was published on December 30th at 10.30pm. Keeping a secret like that was exciting and also very difficult – I did obviously share it with my husband and we carried that between us all the way through Christmas and then celebrated just before New Year with our family.
Then it was like getting ready for a wedding, who would come? Given I was allocated four tickets but we have three kids, what do we wear? Should we stay in London the night before so that we could be sure the kids would arrive on time? Where should we go afterwards to celebrate? Should I curtsey and bow? High shoes or sensible shoes? The list was endless!
On the day, it all went like clockwork, we had very kindly been given an extra ticket so that the whole family could come, the kids were so loving, full of fun and looked gorgeous, nobody stressed, nails and shoes sorted, the weather was amazing, the palace team were so incredibly supportive and celebratory, my curtsy went without a hitch and Prince William was entirely charming.
Meeting HRH the Duke of Cambridge
HRH the Duke of Cambridge is a wonderful advocate for our country. He immediately asked me about techUK and the technology sector. And then we talked about the digital skills this country needs to reach its potential as a digital nation of significance. We talked about George being interested in coding! And I said I hoped that Charlotte and also the new baby will learn skills to prepare them for the future.
I really enjoyed those few minutes of intimacy and came away realising how important acknowledgment is for us all.
Advocating for women in tech – “Talent is everywhere; opportunity is not.”
Technology can be the great equaliser. It shouldn’t matter who you are, where you are from or what resources you have access to – tech presents an immense opportunity providing you have the skills. Imaginations can run wild and boundaries no longer exist.
Women remain significantly under-represented in UK the tech sector, making up just 17% of its entire workforce – and this is not good enough. It’s not just for the sake of it. Diversity also drives productivity. Statistics suggest one women on the board of a company can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20% and that increases as the number of women increases. We should all look at diversity in terms of business benefit and productivity.
It’s really critical that we get in there early and provide role models, advice and guidance needed to ensure girls consider STEM subjects further. Let’s be clear on this one, the cavalry isn’t coming. Now, more than ever, politicians, policymakers, business leaders and civil society need to come together to ensure people are equipped to lead a successful and fulfilling life. No single group has a monopoly on the digital future.
Technology can bring about enormous benefits for society, but only if its workforce is representative of the society it serves. As the common saying goes, “Talent is everywhere; opportunity is not.” It is our role to make sure that people can make the most of their talents and access future opportunities so that they have a chance to live the best life they can lead.
Becoming co-chair of the Institute of Coding
I have recently joined as co-chair of the Institute of Coding. The reason I decided to join this board is because I believe we need to boost the UK’s pipeline of digital skills. It is essential to this country’s ability to shape our future. By working together, universities, employers and industry leaders can help graduates build the right skills, in fields from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence to industrial design.
I see an urgent need to train young people, get parents who have taken a break back into the sector, retrain adults from other industries and find more pathways into tech than we have. The Institute of Coding will play a central role in this. Employers will have tangible input to the curriculum, working hand-in-hand with universities to develop specialist skills in areas where they are needed most.
As we have outlined in the Industrial Strategy, this is part of our ambition to embrace technological change and give us a more competitive edge in the future. The Prime Minister has also spoken about the £10 million investment in free and subsidised training courses to help adults retrain and learn new skills. Launched as part of the Industrial Strategy, the pilot programmes, located in Leeds, Devon and Somerset, Lincolnshire, Stoke-on-Trent and the West Midlands will test how to reach out and support people with the cost of retraining. The Government has also invested £30 million to test the use of artificial intelligence and edtech in online digital skills courses.
Personally, I see the strength of the Institute of Coding in bringing together educators, employers and outreach groups to co-develop digital skills education at undergraduate and masters level for learners in universities, at work and in previously under-supported groups across the country. Alongside this we will also work with our partners to target underrepresented talent through outreach activities, tailored and inclusive curricula, flexible delivery and removal of barriers to working in the industry.
Coming up next
So, what’s next for me? I love the technology sector. Diversity and inclusion inform where I place my support and I am excited to help Girlguiding in their quest to become more technology savvy both in the way they leverage technology but also by finding ways to inspire the 400,000 Girlguides in the UK into STEM subjects. So, it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to ask for support: Fancy volunteering at your local Brownie / Guide pack? Or as a company sponsoring a STEM activity? #DiversityMatters
— Girlguiding (@Girlguiding) December 17, 2017