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INSPIRE 20 Podcast: Jacqueline de Rojas, techUK

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Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor
 

Jacqueline de Rojas believes that if algorithms are going to decide whether someone gets a place at a university, a job interview, or even a loan, the tech world must ensure that the people writing those algorithms come from diverse backgrounds.

To illustrate her point, de Rojas tells the story of a doctor who couldn't access the locker room at the gym. Her swipe card just wasn't working. The gym employees called in the tech team, who swapped out the entry card several times—but still nothing.

Initially, the techies had no idea why the cards weren't working. But after some research, they discovered that "doctor" had been hard-coded as a male job title, which is why her card wouldn't let her into the women's locker room.

"If you extrapolate 'doctor' to 'pilot' being hard-coded as a male job title, that could result in a female pilot under pressure being unable to override a plane's auto-pilot, and that could have disastrous consequences," she said. The problem might occur when a female pilot entered her ID; if the system identified her as a female in a "male" job, it wouldn't allow her to make the override. 

This is why diverse teams are needed to build tech, de Rojas said in this week's INSPIRE 20 podcast.

The INSPIRE 20 Podcast Series

de Rojas, President of techUK, is one of the executives taking part in INSPIRE 20, a podcast series that showcases 20 executives from around the world who are making a difference in terms of inclusion, diversity, and race in their organizations, communities, and industries.

 

Listen to the podcast with Jacqueline de Rojas on Apple PodcastsSoundCloud, or Spotify. Plus: See all INSPIRE 20 podcasts

The highest honors

Born in England, de Rojas was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen's New Year Honours list of 2018. The CBE, or Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is the highest-ranking OBE award not styled as dame (or as sir, if male).

The award is given to recognize the positive impacts that individuals have made in their work. Notable British CBE recipients include Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Hawking, and Hugh Laurie.

Why diversity matters: A reality check

It's important for business leaders to ensure that there are more diverse voices in the room, not fewer, de Rojas said. Otherwise, they will be building tech that doesn't reflect the market they serve.

"We have to make sure that we are more inclusive, more diverse, if we want better business outcomes," she said. "The beauty of technology is that it enables us to scale at pace but make sure that diverse people are creating the tech so that we avoid the kind of disaster [that would occur if pilots were hard-coded as males] and we create a world that works for everybody."

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