Effortlessly elegant leadership: Jacqueline de Rojas CBE

The president of techUK and one of Brummell's Inspirational Women describes why her mantra is: ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito…’

People 27 Jun 2018

Jacqueline de Rojas, president of techUK

Jacqueline de Rojas, president of techUK

Jacqueline de Rojas joined the board of techUK in 2012 and became its president in 2014. techUK is the voice of the tech industry across the UK; representing the companies and technologies that are defining today the world that we will live in tomorrow.

Rojas believes passionately that all voices must be heard at the table to promote self-governance of ethical design and development in technology and also as a way to actively solve the skills gap. She is a champion for inclusion and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

My family background was very challenged as I didn’t have many positive male role models, and my mother had no option but to work nights. I loved learning, and still do, so I turned to school for structure and to find role models. I realised that education set me free, with more choices than I could ever have hoped for.

My aspiration was to become a newscaster for the BBC but, as with all things, it did not quite go to plan. Having come back from Germany where I studied for my European business degree and, needing to pay my way, I accepted a job in technology recruitment before moving to a managerial role with my largest client, British software company Synon.

Jacqueline de Rojas
Jacqueline de Rojas

I entered a very male-dominated world when I started working in tech, but I didn’t really notice how uneven the playing field was until I reached management level and applied for a promotion. I was running a business 30 times larger than my male competitor, but he got the job. When I asked for feedback, I was told that they simply do not put women on the leadership team.

That was a wake-up call because they were happy for me to run the revenue lines, be responsible and do all the legwork, but actually being an ambassador for the business and running it was a step too far. So, I left and got a job as managing director of another company. That was my big shift, and I went through an enormous wave of self-doubt, but also realised there was something positive to be learnt. I reframed it – it was a good thing that they told me, otherwise I might have been banging my head against the glass ceiling for another five years hoping for a promotion. But, as one door closed, another one flew wide open and I went on to take my first role as a managing director.

This is when I went from manager to leader, realising that up until then, I was trying to be a man in a man’s world. I honestly thought I had to be a man to make it, and that was my own self-limiting belief.

At work, I recall a pivotal leadership moment when I took my team and a group of clients to the Grand Prix at Silverstone. We took a helicopter to avoid the traffic and one of my team asked my client if he would like to meet the managing director. The client turned around and said: ‘Oh my God, you’re a woman!’ And there was a slightly awkward pause, to which I replied with a big smile and lots of humour: ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realise I needed a penis to make a decision! But let’s discuss it over lunch.’

That customer has been with me for 20 years and it dawned on me that I didn’t have to be an angry feminist to make it in business; instead I could use humour to diffuse a situation and regain control and power. I think my biggest lesson and the biggest learn of my career to date is that you don’t have to leave dead bodies around you in order to succeed.

I have also worked very hard on practical things, such as how to get the best out of the boardroom. Contrary to my early career when I rarely asked for help because I thought it would make me look weak, these days I reach out for help all the time. Perhaps that comes with age, I don’t know, but I have enjoyed working extensively with mentors, personal brand experts and performance coaches to ensure that when I speak, everyone listens, and so I turn up as the best possible version of myself. I love the idea of effortlessly elegant leadership and I work hard to ensure that I align my brand to this, so I’m the person who walks into a boardroom with purpose.

In 2017, I met the Dalai Lama and he reminded me of the enormous difference we can all make with the smallest of actions. It reminded me that as leaders we are ‘off course’ 90 per cent of the time and that it is the job of leaders to make those constant adjustments to ‘right the ship’. It showed me that everyone can make a difference, and you’re probably more powerful than you think you are. You just have to make it happen. His quote, which I have on my Twitter feed, is: ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito!’ So simple and so true.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @JdR_Tech