Jacqueline de Rojas has spent over 25 years in the tech industry. She’s just taken the reins at the UK’s largest tech company Sage, after being with the software giant Citrix for many years. She’s also the president of techUK, an organisation committed to helping the UK tech industry flourish.
As the winner of our Inspiring Leader of the Year Award, we grabbed Jacqueline for a quick chat.
Tell us how you're helping women in tech?
Technology is traditionally male-dominated and it’s fair to say that I’ve been through the school of hard knocks! Having come out at the other end of my career reasonably intact I really believe that to solve the skills crisis we have in this country, we need to redress the gender balance and increase diversity in this sector by making it more attractive to women. This needs to start with a better work-life balance and promotion of inclusion across the industry. My experience shows that more diverse teams create better business outcomes.
At techUK, we’ve created a clear manifesto for women. Now it’s really starting to gather momentum we’re building out the plan to focus on skills and increasing the talent pool. We act as an umbrella organisation to bring together many UK initiatives for women. Our work feeds into the government to push for better business conditions as the voice of the tech industry.
What challenges have you faced as a leader and how have you overcome them?
When I look back I sometimes think I’ve almost become immune to the male-dominated behaviour that peppers our sector. However, one stand-out moment was being introduced to a client as the new Managing Director. He had his back to me and he turned around with great excitement and anticipation only to be entirely disappointed when he saw me. He couldn’t stop himself exclaiming: “You’re a woman!” to which I replied, “I didn’t realise I needed certain body parts in order to make a decision, but let’s discuss that over lunch…”
Interestingly we went on to build a very strong relationship and I like to think I managed to reframe that episode into something positive. I suppose there’s merit in someone speaking their mind instead of second guessing them. I certainly wasn’t left in any doubt as to what I was dealing with!
How do you bounce back from rejection and the challenges?
My upbringing made me self-sufficient and determined not to get in my own way, which was probably driven by a massive fear of failure. If I’m honest I’d say that my confidence grew because it was one of my survival tactics. I needed to appear confident, talk with conviction and find a way to create a life for myself and my family which was at the opposite end of the spectrum to the one I grew up in. It made me robust, probably a bit insecure, determined and perhaps a little bit more alpha-male in my early career!
Happily, I’m more relaxed these days. I can reframe failure as a way of learning. When I was a junior leader I probably left a lot of ‘dead bodies’ around me (metaphorically) in my drive for perfection, but now I see the value of scaling an organisation through empowerment. It always amazes me to see the potential that is unlocked when you give people the space to be amazing.
Never be too hard on yourself. I was my harshest judge and still have that constant negative whispering in my ear. But I seem to have found a way to turn the volume down and hear compliments when they are handed to me.
Life isn’t perfect and doesn’t always go in straight lines but you can always find a miracle even when things haven’t gone so well.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
To ask for help. I used to find this hard as it felt like I was failing, but now I ask for help, ideas and opinions all the time.
I used to tackle problems all guns blazing. I now take a more thoughtful route and take stock of a situation and manage it in a more rounded way. Being an ‘alphazilla' as a woman in business isn’t the only way to win or compete, and probably isn’t always the fastest route to success.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
It’s important to know what you want, define it and make it real in your head. This quote from Lewis Carroll sums this up perfectly; ‘If you don't know where you're going, any road will do.’
So many people wonder why their careers aren’t going anywhere, but if you ask what their vision or ambition for their next role looks like, they can’t really answer. Being precise is critical. I know this is easier said than done, but without this vision finding the right path will be a real challenge.
You also need to understand your personal brand, because you have a personal brand whether you like it or not. It’s what people say about you when you leave the room. Understanding what you are currently known for and what you want to be known for is crucial. I wish I had known how important that was when I was 30!
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Balancing home and work life is vital! I usually start my day at about 5am with my husband, who is a yoga teacher and runs a charity delivering yoga to special needs children. I know I’m very lucky to have him in my life creating that balance together. If we aren’t together, I tend to go for a quick run to blow out the cobwebs.
Navigating the constant ping of email traffic, meetings, deadlines and the daily barrage of calls and meetings can take a lot of time and energy, but I‘ve managed to find a very happy balance with family life. I also rely on my Headspace App to take me to a happy place!
How have your found the mentors and sponsors to support you in your career?
I’ve been lucky enough to find great people along my career path who have wanted me to succeed. While I’m not sure that I’d call them mentors, I did learn to emulate the behaviours of these great leaders and role models.
A handful of people throughout my career have been very generous and helped me to gain the confidence to look for – and ask for – the next challenge. I feel very strongly that mentorship works both ways. Just as we all need that generosity from time to time, we also need to offer a hand to others so that their own journey is not quite so challenging. I know it can seem cliché but if we really want to create a technology sector in which diversity thrives, we have to send the elevator back down.
Role models are really important. Women need to believe that their ambitions can be realised and to see someone in their dream job is a massive endorsement of what’s possible. Having seen the power of peer group role models it’s clear that we need more role models at all ends of the spectrum from the very young, through middle management and in the boardroom.
As we approach International Women's day, we’ll be celebrating on the 3rd of March 2017 in Leeds, the 7th and 8th of March in London, by asking you to #BeBoldForChange. We want to encourage you to use your voice to help forge a better working world - a more inclusive, gender equal world where both men and women can thrive. Join us on the 3rd of March in Leeds to hear three game changers share their achievements, challenges and give you an insight into how they are working to make a change.
Join us on the 3rd of March in Leeds to hear three game changers share their achievements, challenges and give you an insight into how they are working to make a change. Find full list of events here.