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June 9, 2015updated 22 Sep 2016 11:51am

Maternity, Alphazillas & Unequal Pay: Jacqueline de Rojas talks Women in Tech

"sexism is holding back over 50% of the population from reaching the very top."

By Ellie Burns

Editor Ellie Burns continues her Women in Tech series with Jacqueline de Rojas, area vice president, Northern Europe, Citrix.

Jacqueline de Rojas is not only a women who has succeeded in tech, but a women who is pushing the issue of diversity forward in her capacity as techUK Deputy President and Women in Technology Board Champion.

Here she talks to CBR about STEM, maternity, sexism and advising against becoming an ‘alphazilla’.

Jacqueline de Rojas

 

EB: How do you think young women currently view the IT sector?

JdR: Perceptions are changing and it is being viewed more positively now than it has been for some time. We still need greater numbers of girls taking up STEM subjects at school and continuing with them into higher education, combined with improved employer attitude to flexibility in the workplace. If businesses can adopt solutions that can securely deliver apps, desktops, data and services to any device on any network or cloud, enabling workers on the move this can bring with it huge career benefits.

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EB: Where do you think this ‘male profession’ perception comes from? School, older generations, popular culture – all of the above?

JdR: All these factors play a part, but the perception primarily comes from education. Schools don’t necessarily present the technology sector in as positive light as they could, and the exciting opportunities available for those who study STEM topics are not highlighted as they should be. This is partly due to a lack of understanding from schools about the possibilities available – something business and organisations like techUK have to help address.

EB: Who is responsible for changing this perception?

JdR: No one element can solve all the problems, it has to be a collaborative effort with government, business and education institutions all working together to change it. The problems are far too big for any one party to solve in isolation – the key has to be collaboration and the implementation of a clear strategy on how to tackle the issue.

EB: You stated that the ‘male profession’ perception primarily comes from education. What do schools have to do to engage girls in STEM?

JdR: It’s obviously a complex problem, but one of the key causes is a lack of investment in STEM subjects and an absence of the right teaching techniques to get girls interested in the topic. The UK has one of the worst records in science performance for girls in the world according to the OECD – and European Commission research also suggests that the skills gap is larger in the UK than anywhere else in the EU, with the gender imbalance remaining a pervasive issue throughout the education system and within the IT workforce.

The best way to counter this is to get girls engaged at a younger age. Things like Code Club should be supported and participation encouraged as they ultimately improve the numbers selecting STEM subjects at school.

EB: Why did you choose a career in technology? What drew you to this particular sector?

JdR: Actually my career aspiration was to read the six o’clock news for the BBC! However, I needed to earn money, 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 decided that selling people was much harder than selling a product or service, so I joined my largest client, which was a technology company called Synon (AS/400 application development). They had an international market that they needed someone to manage, 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.

EB: Why do you think there is a lack of women choosing IT and technology as a profession?

JdR: I think that this is a cross gender issue – not enough individuals are choosing IT and technology as a profession full stop. This is particularly acute when it comes to woman in technology and requires bold action if it is to be addressed. It stems from decades of underinvestment and lack of focus on technology and IT in schools. This has resulted in a lack of skills being learnt by girls at an early age which stifles interest in the subject and results in fewer women considering IT and technology as a profession.

There also needs to be greater industry leadership in attracting women to IT careers, including more role models. The British Computer Society (BCS) recently ran a campaign with 30 influential women in IT who volunteered to act as role models and, through blogs and video interviews, shared their stories and thoughts about the profession to raise the profile of the industry.

EB: How can companies attract more women into the IT profession?

JdR: The technology industry is fast-paced and exciting, but it may not always seem that way from the outside. We have to address this perception problem and highlight it as an industry with lots of opportunity and scope for progression and success.

Further, mobility will be a key driver in attracting female IT professionals into the workforce. Technology can break down the barriers which could put off women from working in full and part time tech roles. If businesses can offer flexible working options, particularly around maternity leave, then it will become a worthy choice for women looking to balance home and work life.

EB: What would you say is one of the main challenges facing women working in the tech industry?

JdR: When women enter the technology/IT industry more often than not they thrive, but it’s getting them into the industry that is proving challenging. This is something that has to be addressed primarily through improvements in education.

EB: What challenges, due to the fact that you are a women, have you faced in the industry?

JdR: On my first day in the technology industry over 25 years ago I was told that the business I had joined "didn’t have women on the leadership team". I would say that the biggest challenge has been fighting the trend for men being promoted based on gender rather than performance and the uneven playing field this creates. Female representation on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to 23.5% in 2015 so while things are changing, sexism is holding back over 50% of the population from reaching the very top.

EB: Why do you think sexism still exists in the workplace? It is the 21st century – why do people still hold bias over gender?

JdR: There is no single answer to this and perhaps more questions than anything else:

– Why is the talent pool for women so small?
– What is it that we aren’t doing to attract young girls to choose tech or tech-related subjects pre-GCSE?
– Where are the young female role models that could attract girls to take this path at an early age?
– Because business leadership is still so male-dominated is there a "closed ranks" mentality in the boardroom because men are perceived to offer less risk, since they don’t tend to have long career gaps due to maternity leave?
– Is the cost of childcare so high that it forces women to make a choice between childcare and career? For example, other countries are more encouraging and tolerant of women in their careers and actively create policies for flexible working and offer tax breaks for childcare or subsidises for crèches at work.
– Are some employers guilty of inflexible work practices prohibiting working mothers/parents from working wherever they are (at home for example)?

All of these things contribute to a state of no change.

 

EB: Despite workplace initiatives and laws, sexism in the workplace still occurs. How would you advise a women facing sexism in the workplace, especially in the male dominated sector of tech?

JdR: Having worked for in the corporate sector for my entire career, I would say that education and culture plays an enormous part in how collaborative a workforce is together. Teamwork is really important and if that is part of the DNA, then there generally appears to be less sexism.

My personal journey has evolved over the years in terms of my confidence and I would offer one piece of advice – you do not have to become an ‘alphazilla’ in order to win or compete. In the earlier part of my career, I would go at a problem with all guns blazing. I now take a more thoughtful route to success.

EB: Would you agree that women in tech have to challenge their own perceptions about their sex? For example, I recently talked with someone who expressed anxiety about going on maternity and how that would ‘look’ to her company/team.

JdR: I think that it is a woman’s right to have children and a career. At least, that’s the way I look at it. I would also say that companies are made up of people and, in my experience, behaving in a transparent and open way about my plans always stood me in good stead.

The other amazing thing about the technology sector is that it is growing at speed and recruitment is definitely ‘on fire’. So if you are confident in your abilities, then you can expect to find an opportunity in this sector. The business community in this country is crying out for great people especially as we continue to face such a digital skills desert.

One of our biggest issues as a country is to try and identify women returners to the workplace after a maternity break. Getting trained and savvy women back into the workforce after a break is, I believe, a fundamental way of boosting our competitive advantage as a global country.

EB: You say its vital to identify women returning from maternity leave. Would you say that the lack of women at the board level stems from the struggle to come back from maternity? How can businesses break this barrier and get women to the top?

JdR: Flexible working would certainly help. Part of that is ensuring that the technology infrastructure is in place, but the other aspect is very much cultural – ensuring that flexible/home working is perceived and accepted as a valid mode of working. I also think that there needs to be better education around the potential productivity gains of flexible working for the entire organisation so that women are not inferred to be "special cases".

I think businesses should ensure they include appropriately qualified women on candidate short lists so that gender diversity is addressed. I do not believe in quotas but I do believe in creating a talent pool of diverse opportunity.

Finally, it’s important to foster a culture among the senior women who have made it to the top to send the elevator back down to women who are starting out on their journeys – a collaborative and supportive culture is invaluable.

EB: In short, do you think discrimination regarding maternity is still prevalent?

JdR: I do think that the situation has improved immeasurably over the past few years, and that the government has taken significant steps to ensure that businesses do treat expectant mothers fairly by introducing tough employment legislation. There are still sadly incidents of discrimination but the law now does also work to adequately protect those put in that situation.

EB: What other factors do you think are stopping women from advancing to board level?

JdR: I think that the talent pool remains small, pay is still often not equal and even the way that job descriptions are written could be described as very "male" orientated in the language used. For example, most men look first for the job title and salary, whereas most women look at job location and the opportunity for career development.

EB: What would you introduce into the workplace to address the challneges we have indentified facing women?

JdR: Among other things, I think that some solutions include:

– Job descriptions written in a more balanced way that appeals to both men and women
– Better mentoring for women already in the business to help them grow into senior positions
– Address equal pay
– Have role models so that aspiration is embedded in the organisation’s culture
– Support diversity in ALL its forms
– Talk about the issue!

EB: As a woman who has succeeded in technology, what sacrifices have you had to make?

JdR: I missed out on seeing my daughter as much as I would have liked when she was very small. That was not so great. On the other hand I have had the luxury of working in a highly paid sector which has enabled me to give her all the opportunity that she and my boys need.

EB: Looking back on your career, would there be anything you would have approached differently on your rise to the top?

JdR: If I go back to my early career and give my younger self some advice, it would to have been to be really clear about my personal brand. I am hired by enterprise software companies to create accelerated growth and I do that by unlocking the potential of the teams of people around me together and ensure that they can operate under pressure.

My social media presences reflects that, my body language reflects that and the way I strategise reflects that. It would have been good to have known it when I was 30! Interestingly since I have been clear about my brand, I have never had to go looking for a job, they have always come to me.

EB: What advice would you share with women who are thinking of, or have just entered, the tech industry?

JdR: One of the key pieces of advice is that if you are looking to progress you have to create your own opportunities for success. Part of this is understanding what your personal brand is, what you want to be known for, and putting yourself in situations where you can be acknowledged for that.

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