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Women in tech: Key to closing Poland’s cybersecurity gap?

CAREERSWomen in tech: Key to closing Poland's cybersecurity gap?

The IT sector, which suffers from a shortage of workers, continues to have weak representation of women. 40% of respondents emphasize that their companies do not employ women in IT departments at all, and only 15.5% indicate that women hold managerial or executive positions. This is according to a study on “Women’s Challenges in Digitalization and Digital Security.” A factor that could increase the participation of women in this market is raising their digital competencies and offering training that enables them to switch careers. Without this, it will be hard to achieve the goal of the government’s program, to have every third worker in the ICT market be a woman by the end of the decade. Cybersecurity should be a particularly important area of these activities.

“In Poland, we should mainly focus on developing competencies in cybersecurity, especially among businesses. Among the recommendations for the government, non-governmental organizations, and companies, we mainly focus on digital competencies, for both women who would like to switch careers, as well as for women who are already in a given work environment but would like to raise their competencies. Career development is still more important than earnings for most women, at least among our respondents, so these digital skills are very important,” says Kamila Pendyk, President of the Institute of Digital Affairs, in an interview with Newseria Innowacje.

According to the “Women’s Challenges in Digitalization and Digital Security” report by the Projekt PL Foundation, prepared in cooperation with the Institute of Digital Affairs and CyberClue as part of the 21st Century Polish Woman program, initiatives aimed at raising digital competencies among women are undertaken in only 20.4% of workplaces. 40% of survey participants said that women are not employed at all in the IT departments of their organizations. At the same time, 75% of women surveyed believe that access to funding for training and certifications, as well as mentorship from experienced women in the IT industry, is essential for their activation in the IT and cybersecurity sectors.

“What we need in Poland to enhance skills, both among women and men in the field of cybersecurity, are training programs, mentoring, and various programs with co-financing for cybersecurity training,” Pendyk lists. “We also need competence-building trainings for people, especially women, who would like to switch careers. Also, there is a shortage of trainings for students, both primary and secondary school students.”

According to the report’s authors, there’s an urgent need to develop a policy that actively supports gender equality in recruitment processes and the promotion of employees in companies. It turns out that women employed in the same positions receive 20% lower salaries than men.

“Efforts also need to be made in the field of secondary education, but also in the implementation of mentoring programs. There are many mentoring programs in Poland, but we think there’s a lack of programs that would entail more networking. Not only between women in higher positions, but also networking between leaders in the ICT industry and women who are just thinking about starting a career in it. We also point to the need to conduct social campaigns aimed at changing stereotypes, because there is still a lot of stereotyping in the IT industry, especially in Poland. But also promoting women who have already achieved success and who could share their experiences, support other women, encourage them to change their future,” adds the President of the Institute of Digital Affairs.

One of the objectives of the Digital Skills Development Program, developed by the Ministry of Digital Affairs, is that by 2030, 29% of people employed in the ICT market will be women. Greater inclusion of women in this market is important not only from the perspective of gender equality, but also due to the deepening deficit of skilled workers.

“The program introduces a number of different changes and improvements so that digital skills can grow. It is a well-written and well-managed program. However, one thing that we proposed in our report, which could be somewhat groundbreaking and which is missing in the program and policy, is the creation of a unit responsible for periodic evaluation, recommendations, and training of public administration representatives, and importantly, in a forward-looking perspective. For example, in the context of the opportunities and threats that lie ahead over the next four years, in terms of raising awareness and security in the context of quantum cryptography. This is a very important change that we face,” says Kamila Pendyk. “A number of actions should be taken to increase competencies in the field of cybersecurity, especially when it comes to legal aspects, because remember, in October of this year, the NIS 2 directive comes into force and I believe we are not prepared to implement it.”

NIS2 aims to build greater business resilience to cyberattacks. As of October 17th, public and private entities classified as medium-sized companies will be covered by new regulations regarding cybersecurity. This also applies to smaller companies that will meet the criteria indicating their key role for the economy or society. The directive imposes on these entities, among others, the obligation to analyze risk and measures to manage it, prepare IT systems security policy and incident management, a business continuity plan, and crisis management. Cybersecurity will thus become a significant pillar of company operations.

“The war in Ukraine has caused a huge increase in the need to hire cybersecurity specialists in our market and currently, in Poland, there is a shortage of about 10,000 such workers. A government training program is necessary, which could train high-class cybersecurity specialists and even encourage career switching and entering this market,” the expert assesses.

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