Jacqueline de Rojas is known as the UK’s ‘titan of tech’. Here is a woman who has risen to the very top of her sector: she is president of TechUK, which represents 950 companies, chair of Digital Leaders, a board member of Rightmove, Costain and AO World, and part of the government’s Digital Economy Council.
Yet this ‘titan’ spent her childhood trying to be invisible. ‘I grew up in a home where my mother had a black eye every week,’ she says. ‘We escaped to Swindon where my grandparents lived, and my mother remarried. A positive move for her but not so great for me and my brother. My stepfather was very insecure and let’s just say it was more than miserable.’
She found safety and structure at school, and she excelled. She recalls standing in the kitchen of their council house at the age of 16 with her O-level results in her hand: ‘My stepfather snatched the envelope from me and read out my grades, which were very good. He said: "What are you trying to do? Are you trying to show me up?"
‘I thought, "Yes, I probably am. I'll show you just how amazing I can be." And that was a massive motivation for me throughout my career.’ De Rojas describes that as the pivotal moment where she went from survivor to thriver.
She studied European Business in Germany, then spent two years in tech recruitment before clinching a job with her largest client: ‘They couldn’t understand a word their German reseller was saying so they hired me to run their international channel,’ she says.
She went on to work for a variety of software giants and powered up the ladder to become a vice president of sales. In the late 90s, she applied for a promotion as country leader. ‘I’d been running a £300m business with hundreds of salespeople – and yet I lost out on the job to a guy who was running a minuscule business by comparison. When I asked for feedback, I was told: "Jacqueline, we simply don’t put women on the leadership team."
It was a huge blow – but de Rojas chose to reframe it as a positive experience: 'At least they told me. At least I didn’t spend another five years bashing my head against the glass ceiling.'
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