F equals for women on the rise

Jacqueline de Rojas


Posted on July 22 2015

This week's Wednesday Woman is the inspiring Jacqueline de Rojas. Named UK's most influential woman in IT 2015 by Computer Weekly, Jacqueline is an Executive at Citrix, NED at Home Retail Group PLC, President at techUK, and a strong champion of Women in Tech. Read her story here:

Bardega: Jacqueline, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you were like growing up?
Jacqueline de Rojas: I’m an executive at Citrix working with the UK, Ireland and Nordic countries. I sit on two external boards as president at techUK and as a non-exec director on the board of Home Retail Group plc - and I’m also an advisor to the board of Digital Leaders.

I was born in Folkestone in 1962 to a Chinese father and British mother. Their relationship was not a happy one and certainly not one of equals. We moved away to Swindon where my mother raised my brother and I alone until she remarried some years later. Growing up, we didn’t have much of anything but we had each other and it taught us about the value of family, of generosity and that integrity goes a long way. Safe to say, I became very self-sufficient and resourceful.

Personally, I found great solace and stability in the structure and rewards of school life; to this day, education, opportunity and ambition remain super important to me, especially as I have raised and guided our own children. I am married to an amazing tech entrepreneur, who retrained as a yoga teacher last year - that is where I get my balance and strength. We have three kids, five dogs and a very happy equilibrium of work, family life, gardening and yoga!

Bardega: What first sparked your interest in tech and ultimately led to the career path you took?
Rojas: My burning career aspiration was originally to be a newscaster for the BBC! Although, as it turns out, that wasn’t meant to be. Having returned to the UK from Germany, after completing a degree in European Business in 1986, I needed to support myself so 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 stayed there for a couple of years but then was invited to join my largest client, which was a technology company called Synon (AS/400 application development).

It was a company with an international operation that needed attention so, having graduated with a degree in European Business, and having 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. I wish I could say that I chose the technology sector as it’s such a cool option to work with the worlds of gamification, wearable tech and digital commerce! What’s not to like?

Bardega: You are an advocate for women in tech ~ how important do you think visibility is in terms of getting more women into the sector? What else do you think we need to be doing to attract and keep more women in tech? 
Rojas: The technology industry often seems hard to access from the outside. We shut ourselves off behind a wall full of three letter acronyms designed to make us look smart and everyone else is left wondering what on earth we are talking about. Girls are particularly less attracted to the industry because of the way we portray it.

I think encouraging the uptake of STEM subjects in schools is still important – as well as reframing technology subjects to make them attractive to a more diverse range of students. Engineering, for example, could be reframed as ‘problem solving’ – and, let’s face it, most women feel they are the crisis managers of the world! Using this type of language might change the way in which these roles are viewed and could encourage more interest.

We do face the very real issue of a digital desert - as Andrus Ansip recently highlighted, Europe could face a shortage of more than 800,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020 - so we must also consider other fast track routes to tech talent.
I think there are a number of other ways to make the industry more attractive to women – through better role models to encourage and inspire the next generation, greater adoption and appreciation of flexible working and more internships for young people – and it’s important that they are advertised as internships, rather than the more male-orientated term “apprenticeship”. On the subject of retention, flexible working options in particular are a key driver for many that are keen to succeed in the workplace without the constraints of a nine-to-five mentality – and are an integral way of retaining women in the tech workforce.

Bardega: You currently hold several work positions ~ what part of your career are you most proud of?
Rojas: I do wear many different hats. I am most proud of my kids and the way they have seized the opportunity to do what they love. I am also super proud of my husband who has completely changed from a career in the tech industry and has retrained as a yoga teacher. He is transformed! And so has our life balance.

I have to say that the technology sector has been good to me. I find myself in a position where I can actually make a tangible difference to the outcome of this country and help steer the UK towards seizing its rightful position as a global digital nation of significance. To do that we must be inclusive and we must attract and retain top digital talent from right across the diversity spectrum.

Bardega: Who / what inspires you?
Rojas: I am inspired by the innovation and creativity of our industry, creating disruptive routes to market and smart partnerships which can entirely change the future of our digital opportunity.

Mostly I am inspired by people who help other people. The generosity of people giving up their time to mentor, to shine a light on difficult issues and the unbreakable spirit of people determined to make a difference is especially strong in this industry. For example, Martha Lane Fox and her Dot Everyone initiative; Sue Black for #techmums; Melissa Di Donato for her work at the Stemettes and 30% club and finally, to amazing young women such as Clare Sutcliffe and Linda Sandvik, making a massive difference with initiatives such as the code club. How lucky are we?!

Bardega: Finally what advice would you give a younger Jacqueline?
Rojas: Find your ‘why’. What gets you up in the morning? What do you really care about? The moment I realised that it shouldn’t be this hard to get this far in the tech industry, I started looking around to see why it was so hard. I found a voice and a reason to make the changes I have made in my own life and found the reason for my choice of executive role and board positions. (As an example, I probably would not have chosen Citrix unless it fitted within my core values ~ so flexible working is really important to me because it enables a mobile workforce and that’s exactly what Citrix delivers.)

Jacqueline de Rojas on Twitter

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