Jacqueline de Rojas on Desert Island Discs

Written by Jacqueline de Rojas, President, techUK

Lauren Laverne’s castaway this week is Jacqueline de Rojas, the President of techUK, the body that represents 900 companies in the technology sector. She is President of the Board of Digital Leaders, co-Chair of the Institute of Coding and sits on the government’s Digital Economy Council.

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AI has an opportunity to improve gender and inclusion but only if we have a diverse group of people developing that technology


In this latest podcast discussion, I explore initiatives techUK has undergone to increase diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, how organisations with at least one woman on their board can reduce their risk of bankruptcy and how technologies like AI can improve gender diversity in the workplace.

I didn’t design a career in technology, however when I was first exposed to opportunities in the tech world, I was wanted for my international business mind, not for technical skill. You don’t have to be a technician to get into tech. More companies now more than ever are technology based, but there are so many other skills required than the straight technical skills including creative and organisational aspects. There is a job for anybody in a tech business, because everyone is going to have to embrace the digital future.

I believe all leaders are role models, whether they choose to be or not, because our behaviours are copied, whether they’re good or bad. So, having leaders at the top that reflect the culture, the values and the strategic direction of the business is super important.

As a country, we have pin pricks of ecstasy when it comes to encouraging diversity in all its forms in tech. We have amazing things going on in concentrated areas, and our job is to join the dots and make sure we create momentum for everybody. If we don’t encourage minority groups in our sector, they become excluded from the digital revolution and risk become disadvantaged even further.

We are having a great time as conversationalists about diversity. There is no question that we as a society are having this conversation more and more; but why have we still got less than 20% women in tech? Why are the number of girls taking IT at A level down by 70%? Why are boys four times more likely to do IT GCSE? We still have a lot to do to bring everyone along the digital journey, if we are to have a successful modern economy that works for everybody.

Diversity is critical across all sectors. But for tech to work for everyone, we can’t just have the same type of people innovating or understanding how tech can improve the lives of our society. This is why the seatbelt killed women and children when it was first invented, because it was built by men – this is what will happen in a fast moving tech industry if we don’t have diversity around the table.

Technologies like AI can improve or worsen gender inclusion in digital. We need a balance of ethnic minorities, gender, and sexualities involved in designing machine learning tools. If we get algorithms wrong, and they are built by homogeneous groups versus diverse groups, we will be excluding huge groups of people from different automated processes, and excluding them at speed. AI has an opportunity to improve gender and inclusion but only if we have a diverse group of people developing that technology

As Dr Larissa Suzuki once suggested to me – for everyone pound of public money spent, we should insist there is a diverse team behind the design phase of all of these algorithms. We can’t keep pace with the rate of regulation that all of this new tech will need. Self governance is going to be important, and to self govern, the only way we can do that, is to have every person’s voice represented at the table, and that means a diverse design team. We must create AI with ethics in mind that serves everybody’s needs.

We have some way to go, but we are definitely making process.

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