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Posted on October 16, 2018 by staff

Why Barbie astronaut dolls are tackling diversity issues

TechUK president Jacqueline de Rojas has warned that the tech industry will become an “ungovernable business” without diversity.

De Rojas was speaking to entrepreneur and UKFast CEO Lawrence Jones MBE in the latest episode of his Mind Your Own Business podcast.

Described as the ‘UK’s titan of tech’, de Rojas praised the role of toy manufacturer Mattel in changing stereotypes.

“They’re now creating Barbies who have got astronaut helmets on and they’re coders,” she said. “It’s going to take that to change it.”

She spoke about the skills gap problem, importance of changing attitudes within the industry and levelling the playfield for those who aren’t included.

“We just do not have enough people joining the tech industry,” de Rojas told Jones. “We are creating more jobs than we can fill…and what we do to fill that is we fish in half the pool. We go for men, generally, and we don’t do enough to attract women or girls into STEM subjects or technology roles.

“I’m passionate about filling that skills gap and I’m actually pretty cross that we don’t do enough to make sure that we are welcoming and inclusive when it comes to women returners, young girls who are taking technology subjects and also things like flexible working. It’s just an incredibly big opportunity that’s being missed.”

In addition to being president of techUK, de Rojas also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and sits on the boards of businesses like AO World, Costain Group and Rightmove.

Prior to that, she held senior executive roles at major tech companies including Sage Group, Citrix Systems, CA Technologies, Novell and McAfee International and was previously a non-executive director at Home Retail Group.

De Rojas talked to Jones about how she went from spending her childhood trying to be invisible to becoming one of the UK’s most influential tech figures.

“I don’t pretend to be a ‘titan’ of anything other than that I am passionate about making sure we level the playing field for those who aren’t included,” she said.

De Rojas emphasised that every person, from parents and relatives to employers and teachers, are potential role models “whether they like it or not” and should be inspiring young women to get into STEM subjects and tech roles.

She said: “Are we sitting here waiting for a higher power to come and save us? Because if we are, I think we’re all going to be disappointed because the cavalry isn’t coming on this one. We all have to play our part.

De Rojas, who was awarded a CBE for services to international trade in technology in 2018, warned that the future of the industry could be bleak unless more steps are taken to encourage and promote diversity.

“We are creating so much technology; the pace is relentless,” she said. “Unless we have diversity in the design teams, it will become an ungovernable business. We can’t create enough regulation to manage it, having all of our voices on the table means we can create tech for good in all circumstances.

“My ideal would be that we have, or mandate, diversity around every team that’s involved in tech. That’s important because that will take us to a better place versus a worse place where tech can be turned against us.”