by Veronika Nowak

The low percentage of women in ICT professional fields is a well-documented issue. With IT courses still being dominated by male students – for example, only 16% of students in TU Wien’s informatics programs are female – it is still a challenge for organizations to increase numbers of female employees. How is a research centre like SBA Research (Vienna, Austria) performing in this regard?

SBA Research is a research centre for IT security, located in Vienna, Austria. It was founded in 2006 and currently employs a staff of approximately 100. It is Austria’s biggest research centre, exclusively addressing issues of IT security, and working closely with several Austrian academic (e.g., TU Wien, University of Vienna, Graz University of Technology) and numerous industrial partners.

SBA Research has always employed women, but in the early days of the company, women largely occupied administrative roles. Although some “female Key Researchers” joined the team early on, there was no targeted recruitment of “female Junior Researchers”. Nevertheless, the share of women on SBA Research’s staff has developed nicely over recent years (Figure 1). After a slight drop from 2010 to 2012 – mainly due to transfers to partner institutions or universities – the percentage of women amongst SBA Research’s employees is increasing. It currently matches the average reported by a survey performed on behalf of the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) [1], analysing data from non-university-research organizations (25-27% share of women).

Figure 1: Changes in percentage of female SBA Research staff over three years.
Figure 1: Changes in percentage of female SBA Research staff over three years.

The federal funding programme FEMtech [1] was particularly beneficial in increasing SBA Research’s recruitment of women. The programme, funded by the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), aims to promote the entry of young female scientists into a career in ICT and to further women’s participation in research and technology (industry and non-university-research). SBA Research has so far hosted 15 FEMtech interns, five of whom ended up joining SBA Research as permanent employees, while the remainder returned to their universities to finish their Bachelor of Science and Master of Science studies. Those staying with SBA Research became junior researchers while pursuing their master’s and Ph.D. degrees; one was recently selected as “FEMtech’s Expert of the Month”. Another intern joined the consulting department of SBA Research, transferring her scientific knowledge to practical applications in an industrial context.

The recruitment of female employees remains a challenge, owing in part to the still relatively low numbers of female compared with male ICT students. For example, at the nearby TU Wien, females represented only 1,139 out of 7,173 students enrolled in study programs in the field of informatics for the autumn 2014 semester. Also, a recent study commissioned by the Kuratorium Sicheres Österreich (Austrian Safety Board) regarding women and cybersecurity shows that although 63% of female students are interested in the topic of cybersecurity, only 24% actually thought about working in this field and just 5% already did so [2]. This raises the questions: what can institutions like SBA Research do firstly, to become known as a possible employer and secondly, to attract female applicants in particular? So far, SBA Research has been a regular participant in job fairs of Austria’s universities of applied sciences and awareness initiatives such as the “Young Researcher’s Day” which is organized by the Austrian Computer Society.

SBA Research strives to support female and male employees alike in their careers. Both male and female employees are invited to apply for and have been granted sabbaticals as well as research stays abroad, e.g., in Boston and Tokyo. The matters of family and children have become an increasingly relevant topic amongst SBA Research’s staff. Since 2012 in particular, increasing numbers of employees have founded families, putting the issue of maternity and paternity leave, as well as part-time employment for young parents, on the table. In addition to maternity leave, SBA Research has a high number of fathers taking time off to be with their children, in accordance with the respective Austrian legislation. Also, previously established working conditions facilitating a good work-life balance (e.g., flexible time agreement) have proven to be an asset to the employees – including management – when coordinating work and family matters.

SBA Research is also taking active steps to increase the visibility of women in ICT. In 2015, the second edition of our brochure “Women and IT Security Research” was issued, featuring 24 female employees and alumnae of SBA Research in all kinds of professional fields. Female researchers also take time to participate in initiatives such as TU Wien’s techNIKE – a series of workshops aimed specifically at girls. We furthermore regard our current and former female employees teaching at universities and universities of applied sciences as role models, showing students that there is a professional future for women in ICT.

In summary, SBA Research considers the current situation to be much better than even five years ago; nevertheless, a lot remains to be done. In order to increase the number of women working in ICT, it seems feasible to implement further strategies to attract undergraduate students to computer science programs in academia and female professionals to a career in the respective fields. In addition to public funding programmes, it might be helpful to adjust the scope of ICT projects or conferences [3].

SBA Research will continue to actively encourage women to first study and then work in ICT by making use of respective funding schemes and offering a company culture favourable to integrating the professional and personal goals of female and male researchers.

Links:
SBA Research “Women and IT Security Research”, 2015: http://kwz.me/Ro
FEMtech programme: http://www.femtech.at/en/femtech.html
techNIKE: http://kwz.me/RO

References:
[1] http://www.femtech.at/sites/default/files/Slide_Gleichstellungserhebung_0.pdf
[2] Kuratorium Sicheres Österreich. Female Cyber Mentoring, 2015 (to appear).
[3] C. Alvarado and E. Judson, Using Targeted Conferences to Recruit Women into Computer Science. Communications of the ACM 57(3):70-77, 2014.

Please contact:
Veronika Nowak
SBA Research, Vienna, Austria
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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