Discussing the role of women in cybersecurity with Standard Chartered female leaders in Poland: Anna Urbańska, Managing Director, and Agata Kulas, Head of the local Transformation, Technology and Operation function.
Interviewed by Izabella Wit-Kossowska
FORBES WOMEN: The Cyber Women Community report entitled “Women in IT and cybersecurity” reveals that there is one woman for every three men working in IT and for six men in cybersecurity. Why is it so?
ANNA URBAŃSKA: Poland is becoming the focal point in discussions about the technological future of the world, while the role to be played women in this change is enormous. This is confirmed by the data gathered in the said report, which show that as many as 80 percent of women active in the industry have consciously chosen a career path related to cybersecurity, while 92 percent believe they can succeed in the industry. There is a lot of discussion going on, also in our organization, on how to enable their career development. Today, 43 percent of our employees are women, with 40 percent of them working in various roles related to cybersecurity and technology.
Nonetheless, there are several reasons why men are still dominant in IT. One of them is the lingering stereotype that technology is a masculine domain. The second one – unfortunately women are still less self-confident and apply for the roles they are interested in only when they meet all the specified requirements. As many as 40 percent of surveyed female students are contesting their own skills, assuming that men are better predisposed to work in IT.
How can this be changed?
A.U.: The role of leaders is very important, regardless of their gender. On the one hand, women must become active ambassadors of the industry. Already at the early stages of education, girls should be encouraged to try their hand and not to be afraid of technology. Data collected in the report and our observations of recruitment processes confirm that once women enter the world of IT and cybersecurity, they are doing very well. We should also combat the stereotype that women should focus exclusively on family life and support them in professional development. This way they will be more eager to adopt a strategic approach to planning their careers. The report also revealed that nearly half of women in cybersecurity and every third woman working in IT were treated worse than men – including through lack of confidence and contesting their skills based on gender. Thus also the important role for men and support from female co-workers in accomplishing their professional goals.
AGATA KULAS: Cybersecurity is currently a very dynamically developing area of IT. As a result, the labour market is abundant with open recruitment processes and women – well-educated and creative – can determine the potential of the industry, which is struggling with a shortage of candidates. Consequently, employers must be open to people with different expertise, which is not that obvious, and give a chance to women, who usually perform very well on their new career paths.
Are there areas or specialisations in cybersecurity where women have a better chance to develop their careers?
A.K.: We should keep in mind that cybersecurity is the place to be both for people with a technical background, as well as those with interdisciplinary interests and extensive knowledge from outside the area of technology. According to our study, over 90 percent of women working in cybersecurity recommend these interdisciplinary specialisations to other women, especially the areas of regulatory compliance, risk management, data protection or auditing, where, as they highlight, women are doing extremely well. Whereas the female students surveyed for the report see their best opportunities for development in data analysis, business analysis and database administration.
Where does this come from?
A.K.: Women are capable of perceiving problems in a comprehensive manner and speaking the language of benefits. They can talk about difficult issues in an approachable manner and convince the interlocutor that this is exactly the solution that should be deployed. They have a technological sense but also developed soft skills. On top of that, cybersecurity is an area where everyone, both men and women, start from the same level. Due to the innovative approach it requires, there is an area and there are opportunities to shape the digital reality, in effect acquiring new skills, developing and participating in interesting projects, which people working in other areas of IT often lack. Hence, one should not be surprised that the greatest satisfaction levels are reported by women working in cybersecurity – as much as 92 percent of them. It’s the same at Standard Chartered.
In cybersecurity, there are three colours: red, blue and purple. Red is the offensive part, looking for potential security gaps. The blue team ensures protection, which means configuring security and responding to incidents efficiently. The purples serve as intermediaries between the two. All these teams work from our office in Warsaw, at the same time participating in global processes.
What do you think about your career development?
AK: I do not have an educational background strictly in technology. In the beginning of my professional journey, I worked in risk management, as it was and still is my passion. I started with financial markets risk, then I began exploring operational risk, which includes personal data protection – especially significant since 2018, when GDPR came into effect. Now in my work I can combine data security skills with knowledge on risk management and familiarity with legal regulations.
What kind of space for development is created by Standard Chartered as a result of its global operations?
AK: Our global footprint creates opportunities to develop competencies without having to limit yourself to the local sector. We can exchange information between the individual countries and use the experiences of our colleagues. We operate in 59 markets, so our employees can expect constant challenges and constant development opportunities. Our projects are international and it does not matter if you work from Warsaw, Singapore or New York. We focus on flexible solutions in respect to working time and the place of place. As part of the tasks related to their role and in agreement with their supervisor, every employee may agree upon the most effective work schedule and system.
A.U.: This model works very well in the times when employees pay ever more attention to work-life balance. We have a team made of very mature and experienced specialists, who value freedom and flexibility offered by our organization. This allows them to also organize other aspects of their lives. This is our way of building our reputation as an attractive employer amongst talent.
How do you encourage the development of women in your company?
A.U.: Our principle, rooted in our organisation’s DNA, is to foster an inclusive working environment that drives the development of each individual colleague, regardless of their gender or origin. We strongly invest in well-being programmes to best respond to our employees’ needs, as well as in training both for women and men – to awaken in them the desire to consciously plan their careers.
A.K.: We also work with Cyber Women Community, a community of women interested in cybersecurity, with whom we have compiled the “Women in IT and cybersecurity” report. At Standard Chartered, we have a development programme in place, called SC Women in Cyber Acceleration Programme. It was developed specifically for women who are at the beginning of their cybersecurity careers, as well as those who want to reinforce their skills in this area and expand their network of local and international contacts. As a result of these actions, we have people being transferred between functions, mainly to technology and cybersecurity, because it is one of the most future-proof areas, where development opportunities will be available for years to come.
This material has been drafted in collaboration with Standard Chartered.
This article was first published in Forbes Women.