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SBA Blogpost – No Aliens: Women in ICT

Meet three of SBA Research’s inspiring female colleagues!

Although still a minority, women have tenaciously worked their way back to the center of ICT. SBA Research is proud to be the professional home to distinguished female experts and promising young talent alike, while also partaking in a wider network of women in ICT. Here, we shortly present three exemplary colleagues and their work, ranging from early career researcher to experienced networker to leading academic.

The challenges and disadvantages still faced by women in many aspects of life, as well as the efforts to mitigate them, are on the agenda all year round. Still, Women’s Day is a major occasion to raise additional awareness. SBA Research, as an ICT research institution, is especially familiar with the struggle women encounter in the academic and professional information security environment. On the other hand, there have been significant changes, ranging from funding schemes which explicitly support women (e.g., FFG’s FEMtech internships for female STEM students) to individual women who not only deliver excellent work as ICT experts, but also do not tire to further the cause of supporting young female talent by organizing events or serving as role models. In this spirit, we want to take the Women’s Day 2021 as an opportunity to put some of our inspiring female colleagues front and center.

Junior researcher Tanja Šarčević came to SBA Research as a FEMtech intern in 2018, joining our Machine Learning and Data Management Group (MLDM). Her work focused on data anonymity and the effects that anonymity protection methods have on Machine Learning. The time she spent at SBA Research as an intern not only provided her with scientific training, but also introduced her to how “SBA Research is specific in a way that it brings together senior and junior researchers, university professors and professionals from other areas that are working on a broad spectrum of security-related topics”. SBA Research strives to give its junior staff broad access to our partner network in academia and industry. Former female colleagues have moved on to institutions such as CISPA (Saarbrücken, Germany), TU Wien, and CERT-Bund (Germany). Tanja on the other hand stayed on, became a full-time researcher at SBA and is currently working towards her PhD, focusing on ownership protection of data and Machine Learning models.

Connecting the women in ICT is a major factor in improving their working environment. So, just recently, Stephanie Jakoubi – responsible for SBA Research’s Strategic Account Management, mother of two, and one of the organizers of our annual sec4dev Conference & Bootcamp – initiated and, together with Julia Pammer, organized a free-of-charge women’s session at the sec4dev 2021. Entitled “Women in IT: We Are No Aliens!”, the 3-hour event featured numerous speakers as well as mentoring and networking. 50+ participants joined as successful ICT women shared stories from their work lives, discussed the importance of networks and mentoring, and talked about their experiences in balancing work, life, and family. The session received enthusiastic feedback and led to further activities such as a survey regarding women’s experiences in IT. This and other efforts aim at showing the diverse and broad spectrum of careers in IT and cybersecurity in order to spark the interest of girls for IT professions. Furthermore, Stephanie maintains contact and exchange with “IT Girls” initiatives from other countries.

One of the speakers at this sec4dev women’s session was SBA’s very own Johanna Ullrich – Key Researcher, COMET Area Manager and head of the Networks and Critical Infrastructures Security Group (ERIS). Like Tanja, Johanna started out as an intern, first for a summer internship, then as a FEMtech intern. Since joining SBA, she completed her master’s degree in Automation Engineering and earned a PhD sub auspiciis presidentis in Computer Science. Being one of the few ICT women in a leading research position, she is very aware of the exemplary effect: “It is very important to make equality visible, and I enjoy motivating and promoting the next generation of women to continue to develop, gain new experience and acquire new knowledge.” Since her son joined the picture in 2018, she is gaining additional experience in balancing career and private life which she willingly shares upon request. Her scientific work focuses on security at the intersection of computer science and classical engineering, e.g., on attacks against the power grid and aspects of network security, in particular measuring experiments and IPv6.

Those are just three examples of the many impressive women with whom SBA Research has the privilege to work. Acknowledging the importance of small steps to reach a big goal, we will continue to further young talent through internships and junior positions, support advanced professionals in coordinating their work and private life, and provide space and resources for events that help to connect women in ICT.

Further reading and initiatives