Bianka Siwinska is the president of the Perspektywy Education Foundation and the originator of the PWiTS. The largest conference and Career Forum for women in new technologies in Poland and Europe. This year’s fifth conference was held on June 14-15 at EXPO XXI in Warsaw.
Why is it essential for you to promote science and technology among women?
– In my house, there were always computers, robots, and technological curiosities. It was because my dad was the creator of the first magazine in Poland about computers – the famous “Bajtek.” Also, theoretically, I had very privileged access to this area. However, I was a girl, and it affected my future. I was not encouraged to be interested in new technologies, but my older brother was. It is how women’s and men’s social roles were approached at that time. There were things for boys and, separately, for girls. And even though I was very interested in programming and could sit with my brother for hours and watch him learn it, no one ever told me, “Come on, try it yourself.”
Have stereotypes prevailed?
– No one had any ill will here. That’s how it worked in my home and society at the time. And I was quite a shy, polite girl, and I never dared to oppose it myself. So I followed the path intended for women – from the humanities and social sciences to a doctorate in political science. And my brother, as you can easily guess, became an IT specialist. But I didn’t feel bad about it.
– Until many years later, when I was studying in Germany, I encountered feminist ideas for the first time. Then I realized that what was happening in my home was not correct. I felt that I wanted to change it. I want no girl to be automatically excluded from access to technological inspiration. At that moment, I felt a mission – an itching urge to act.
Where did it start?
– I came up with the action “Girls to Polytechnics!” and went with it to schools and universities. And then there were more activities until it was time for a big conference for women in new technologies.
Where did the idea to organize such an event come from?
– Today, new technologies are not only a tool but an area of crucial importance for the development of the world. Here, new ideas, concepts, innovations, and solutions are created, thanks to changing our world. So if equality does not prevail in this area, then the difference will not be adapted to all of us. And we can see that there are still too few women in the IT&Tech world. And a so-called digital gender gap because there is still a stereotype that new technologies are a male domain. Hence, for example, fewer girls decide to study at technical universities or science faculties. Thus fewer women in companies that create innovations and push the world forward. Hence, there are few women in key positions in technology companies.
What will increase the presence of women in this field?
– All studies show that the broader presence of women in new technologies increases the quality of the technologies and business efficiency in general. In 2016, the EC estimated that the annual productivity losses caused by inequalities between women and men in this area amount to over 16B euro!
What about our current fear of the rampant development of generative AI? What role do women have to play here?
– Indeed, AI is the topic of 2023. It is because it has finally hit the rooftops and has become the object of interest of the so-called ordinary person. It raises questions and concerns about our integrity as a human race, identity issues, safety, and exploitation ethics. That is why it is essential that as many women as possible get involved in the creation of AI. Thanks to this, there is a chance that our approach to this area will be more balanced. And focused on solving real problems with social and climate issues.
At our last Summit, “Be the ‘I’ in AI” was one of the leading slogans, with as many as 15 meetings on this topic. We had the opportunity to listen to the visions of leading experts in this field. Such as prof. Aleksandra Przegalińska or Piotr Sankowski. The last one is a researcher of artificial intelligence algorithms with one of the world’s most outstanding achievements.
How can the last conference bring more women into tech?
– From the beginning, we assumed that the conference would be a place of meeting, mutual inspiration, learning from each other. And drawing strength from talented women related to new technologies, especially IT, but not only. And so it is happening. The last conference has become a platform where new ideas and relationships are created. Where women come out with new skills, knowledge, experiences. And above all, with new energy, thus becoming more robust, more motivated, and more confident.
What kind of event was the last conference?
– Extraordinary! These two days are filled to the brim, from morning to night, with tech and soft skills workshops. Hundreds of individual mentoring sessions, many inspirational speeches and discussions. Meetings in closed thematic groups, and energetic accompanying events. Summit is also a job fair, which also takes place during our conference. Through Summit, we support women in their choices, in their pursuit of their goals. And in their ambitions to gain a tangible impact on the changes taking place in the world. Summit is two days during which, in one place in Poland, in Warsaw, you can feel the tremendous female potential roaring. And you can see its energy, feel its strength, marvel at its importance to the world.
Our partners recognizing for years that Perspektywy Women in Tech Summit is an important event for their development or business. But Summit is, above all, a possibility thanks to which an extensive global network of women in science and technology is created and grows. And new intelligent, talented, strong, active, and ambitious women are constantly joining this network, seeing that there is a place for them in the technological world. Thanks to Summit, but also to our other pro-women programs – scholarships, mentoring, and startups.
Can we say today, 5 years after the first conference, that there are more women in technology in Poland? And is it a significant increase?
– There are definitely more women, but it is not a revolution yet. We are in a particular transformation. The new world of conscious women who develop technologies is also in the process of change. You can meet them at our Summit with these talents, strengths, ideas, this potential. However, this traditional world, so very masculinized, resists it constantly. Women, practically all those in technology, encounter many obstacles. There are stereotypes, frivolous treatment, and sometimes sexism. Hence, as a society, we have yet to grow to a stage where all men and women enjoy equal opportunities.
Who is coming to the Summit?
– Our participants are students of technical and exact sciences, especially computer science, but not only. Summit is also attended by young professionals. Those who have already entered the labor market and are looking for new opportunities or support in developing their career wings. There are also successful women with us. And those sedately in their careers who want to pass on their knowledge to younger girls, share their experiences, inspire and encourage. Finally, many gentlemen with us, the wise ones, who support women.
This year’s event, like last year, was climatically favorable. Where does this combination of technology and climate care come from?
– We are in the midst of a climate catastrophe. Therefore, I believe that it is our duty, that is, all of us, to act. And the action we took last year in Perspektywy, and we repeated now, was to make Summit a truly climate-sensitive event. It means that we will count, reduce and compensate with more than the greenhouse gas emissions related to the implementation of the event. Leaving behind a forest freshly planted by us and Orange employees, 200 km from Warsaw. Our goal is zero emissions and a positive impact on the climate.
The last conference gathered over 11,000 participants. Aand it was supported by over 100 different partners. Are these numbers a success for you?
– For me, success is primarily the fact that the Perspektywy Education Foundation, which is the organizer of the conference, has proven its faith in women in the power of science and technology. And above all in the fact that the world in its current shape must change. That is why we need as many beautiful and sensitive minds as possible. And as wise women as possible who will take responsibility for changing the world because we are his hope and future!
What else does the Perspektywy Education Foundation do?
– It is a recognized non-profit organization that inspires, connects, and supports women in technology, science, and innovation in Europe and Central Asia. It is partnered with over 100 of Poland’s largest technology companies and the best technical universities. We run several inspirational activities for young women in technology and science. For example: IT for SHE, LeaderSHEp Academy, Shesnnovation Academy, Girls to Learn!, Girls in the Game. And a scholarship program for female IT students: New Technologies for Girls.
In most of our activities, we build an element of mentoring. It is because we believe in the value of relationships that people with experience want to share with girls with potential. For 15 years, we have supported girls in choosing technical and science majors as part of the pioneering and most extensive campaign in Poland, Girls for Technical Universities!
More about the projects of Bianka Siwinska is here.
More about conference is here.