Empowering Women in IT: Organising The TechUniverCity Conference

SUSO 19 September 2023

Find out how SUSO organised the TechUniverCity conference in partnership with WSB Merito University in Poznań.

Author: Paulina Krakowiak, Leader Client Services & Head of Delivery

Paulina Krakowiak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am thrilled to share the incredible journey of organising the TechUniverCity conference in partnership with WSB Merito University in Poznań and Łukasz Szalankiewicz, who is a lecturer, activist and audio lead  with a strong focus on promoting digital culture and demoscene heritage worldwide. 

In this article, I will delve into the employer branding perspective of this event, highlighting my personal experience, some thoughts from members of the SUSO team and motivations behind taking up this exciting endeavour.

TechUniverCity Conference

How It All Began: The Idea and Its Relevance

It all started during one of the conferences in the eNstudios building in Poznań. I attended the “Women in IT” panel with Łukasz Szalankiewicz. The discussion, though insightful, only scratched the surface of the topic. 

After the panel, I met Michalina Kowalczyk-Rybacka from WSB Merito University in Poznań and City of Poznań Investment Department (Invest in Poznań), at a networking event. 

SUSO Digital and WSB Merito University decided to collaborate as partners, and that evening, we made a significant decision. We felt there was a lack of socially responsible initiatives in Poznań and believed that organising an annual TechUniverCity conference would be a fantastic development initiative in this area. 

The City of Poznań graciously extended its patronage to our conference and TechUniverCity became the first event in a series we planned to organise with WSB Merito University.

WSB Merito University in Poznań and SUSO’s shared mission gave birth to the TechUniverCity conference. This cycle consists of meetings dedicated to exploring new technologies and their social, economic, cultural, and equal opportunity challenges.

The main idea behind the cycle is to create an environment for the free exchange of ideas and experiences between businesses related to new technologies, academic communities, and municipal and cultural institutions. 

The meetings are structured as conferences with lectures, panel discussions, and are complemented by educational workshops. A crucial aspect of each event is the networking opportunities it offers to participants.

The opening event in this cycle, TechUniverCity, focuses on “Women in IT.” The conference aims to discuss the role of women in the IT sector and the challenges faced by this essential industry.

TechUniverCity Opening Event

An Honourable Patronage of Dame Stephanie Shirley

Since January 2023, we have been preparing for the conference, and it wouldn’t be complete without the patronage of Dame Stephanie Shirley, one of the world’s first programmers who founded a company that employed only women. 

Stephanie signed her offers to clients using the alias “Steve” so that companies would take her seriously. She was a pioneer of her time. Thanks to our collaboration with the Julia Woykowska Foundation, our dream came true. Dame Shirley graciously agreed to patronise our conference and even recorded a video message for the participants.

‘Work always for the good of the team. Listen to others with Goodwill. Don’t let the group be torn apart by jealousy and silly arguments, cherish the differences between you and your colleagues. Those differences are one of the things that makes your feed effective and creative and always be kind. Remember that just one harsh remark can be costly in human terms. It can take  weeks for a relationship to recover.’

You can find a link to Dame Shirley’s insightful address here.

Dame Shirley’s personal story also deeply resonates with me. She arrived in England as an unaccompanied Kindertransport refugee during World War II, and tragically lost her only child, who suffered severely from autism. Dame Shirley’s perseverance and success are inspirational because of the challenges she overcame. 

I recommend her words of wisdom in monthly newsletters and social media that can uplift women. As a philanthropist, she supports various initiatives and fights against discrimination. 

I read Stephanie’s book, “Let It Go,” and from it, I learned how she empowered a generation of women in technology, offering them unheard-of freedom to choose their own hours and manage their workloads. 

Shirley’s business thrived, and she gradually transferred ownership to her staff, making 70 millionaires in the process.

 

 

Dame Shirley is actively involved in supporting women refugees from Ukraine by providing IT courses and helping them find employment. Her initiatives aim to empower these women to thrive and build a better future for themselves and their families in challenging circumstances. Through her dedication and compassion, she serves as an inspiring role model for positive change.

The invaluable lessons from remarkable individuals, including Dame Stephanie Shirley, have instilled in me the importance of determination, hard work, and kindness. 

These experiences also remind me of my own grandmother, Janina, who bravely faced challenges during the Second World War. Their confidence, experience, conviction, and courage inspire me to be resourceful, diligent, goal-oriented, and ever-ready to offer a kind word.

When I volunteered to assist Paulina with the Women in IT conference, I never anticipated how deeply it would impact me. Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women – a grandmother who was a doctor and the primary earner in our household, accomplished aunts, and female family friends holding high-level positions. I believed there were no barriers for me as a woman. With this mindset, I approached the conference, thinking that I wouldn’t learn anything new. I was mistaken.

Dame Shirley’s speech truly made me contemplate the power of empowering women to bring about change in the world to women who didn’t have the same opportunities as I did. Other presentations throughout the conference made me realise how skewed and inaccurate our historical education is. 

To shape a better present and future, we need to rewrite history books and celebrate the achievements of women. I dedicated my time to researching women who were overlooked by history, even though they were inventors and revolutionaries. The number of forgotten and omitted women is truly astonishing.

While I had wonderful role models in my early life, my perspective on the world could have been even more enriched had these thinkers, philosophers, scientists, and revolutionaries been included in the standard curriculum. Who knows? Perhaps from a young age, men would have developed a different perception of women in the sciences and IT. These are the role models that so many women lack in their lives.

Meanwhile, here I am writing this from a major city with a population of 526,000, boasting 26 institutions of higher learning – yet only one statue is dedicated to a woman. The disparity is stark and serves as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done.


Agata Pona

Agata Pona, Head of Content at SUSO Digital

Conference Program

The workshops were the heart and soul of the TechUniverCity Conference. One workshop, led by Magdalena Giec, focused on “Entering the State of Flow.” Magdalena has been a valuable supporter of our teamat SUSO, The SUSO Account Management team had a chance to work with her as a public speaking coach a while ago. 

Her workshop during this conference taught us how to achieve that elusive state of flow, where creativity and productivity merge seamlessly. Our team left the session feeling inspired and equipped with valuable techniques to optimise their performance. 

Another workshop, titled “Language Competencies: Assertive Communication in English,” was conducted by Katarzyna Cebulak. Her engaging approach to teaching ascertained that attendees not only improved their language skills but also gained the confidence to communicate assertively. 

Effective communication is vital in any business, and Katarzyna’s workshop undoubtedly left a positive impact on the audience and gave great tools which they can use in the future.

Furthermore, the workshop on “Designing a Career in SEO” was a highlight of the conference, featuring our very own Ewelina Bączek. Ewelina, the sole female member of our SEO team, possesses extraordinary teaching abilities and is always eager to share her wealth of experience. Her insights into SEO career paths and strategies for success resonated with aspiring SEO professionals, particularly inspiring women pursuing careers in this field. 

Poznań, often referred to as the SEO hub, recognized the need to nurture and encourage individuals to explore this field. Ewelina’s workshop resonated with me. I like the idea of motivating to help other women feel more confident in the job market by providing guidance and support in their professional journeys.

Designing a Career in SEO by Ewelina Bączek

“Attending the “Women in IT” conference was truly an inspiring and empowering experience! Not only did it celebrate the achievements of women in the tech industry, but it also showcased their remarkable contributions to the field.

Throughout the conference, I had the privilege of listening to engaging stories from strong women who can undoubtedly be considered role models, such as technology pioneer Stephanie Shirley. Their personal journeys, triumphs, and challenges offered valuable insights and advice.

The thought-provoking panel discussions tackled critical issues like gender diversity and workplace equality, prompting meaningful conversations and reflections.

Moreover, the conference provided an excellent networking opportunity, allowing me to connect with like-minded professionals and build significant contacts. The sense of mutual trust and friendship among attendees created a supportive and encouraging environment that further enriched the experience. Overall, the “Women in IT” conference left a lasting impact, and I’m looking forward to applying the lessons learned to my own career journey!”


Oleksandra Bondar

Oleksandra Bondar, Account Manager at SUSO Digital

The Official Opening: Setting the Tone for Empowerment

The official opening of the conference set the tone for an inspiring and empowering event. Małgorzata Kluska-Nowicka from WSB Merito and our Managing Director  Andrzej Oleksik delivered welcoming addresses, expressing their enthusiasm for fostering talent and promoting diversity in the tech industry. 

We were honoured to have Mariusz Wiśniewski, the Deputy Mayor of Poznań, grace the event with his presence, demonstrating the city’s support for such initiatives.

A Special Patron: Dame Stephanie Shirley

One of the most memorable moments of the conference for me was the involvement of Dame Stephanie Shirley, whom I already described. She is a true trailblazer in the tech world. 

Dame Shirley’s patronage added an invaluable dimension to the event. The Julia Woykowska Foundation facilitated her participation, and we had the privilege of screening a film featuring Dame Shirley’s empowering message. Her life story and dedication to empowering women in technology left a lasting impression on all attendees.

You can find a link to the recording here.

Screening a Film Featuring Dame Shirley's Empowering Message

The Queen’s Gambit Effect: Strategic Thinking in Business

The topic of women in technology should not only be discussed by women. Personally, it is crucial for me that leaders at SUSO support the team in important initiatives. I am very proud that our MD, Andrzej led the conference, and his lecture, based on real data, provided a strong foundation for all the other presentations and panels. His lecture on the “Queen’s Gambit Effect” was nothing short of captivating. Drawing parallels with the popular TV show, “The Queen’s Gambit,”

MD, Andrzej lecture on the "Queen's Gambit Effect"

Photo by Robert Kujawa

Panel Discussions 1: Addressing the IT Industry’s Challenges for Women

The conference hosted a thought-provoking panel discussion on “The Most Crucial Challenges for Women in the IT Industry.” Katarzyna Sobocińska from the City of Poznań did an exceptional job as the moderator.

Esteemed panellists, including Dorota Kowalik from Nordcloud, Gabriela Nunez-Wietrzyńska from FlexDev, and Joanna Ochocińska from Capgemini, candidly shared their experiences and challenges as women working in the IT sector. 

The insights offered during this discussion provided valuable guidance on how to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in technology.

Panel Discussion 2: Collaboration and Harmony – The Impact of Gender Equality on Organisational Culture in IT

This panel, skillfully moderated by Łukasz Szałankiewicz, delved into the benefits of gender balance within IT teams and the significance of diversity and inclusivity in fostering creativity and driving better outcomes. 

Panellists, including Antonina Grzelak from PanParagon, Natalia Buczel from Sii, and Tomasz Piątek from Lumen, shared their insights on the positive effects of equal representation of women and men in IT teams. 

They also discussed the importance of cultivating an inclusive and diverse work culture to achieve exceptional results.

Lecture: IT from the (Air-Conditioned) Kitchen – Finding Your Path

In a presentation, Karo Skibińska from Egnyte guided attendees through the choices faced by individuals interested in entering the IT industry. From selecting the right specialisation to considering relevant skills and prerequisites, Karo shared her personal journey to becoming a DevOps professional. 

Her talk not only provided valuable advice on building a strong IT career but also highlighted the daily challenges and sources of inspiration in this field.

Lecture: Taking Small Steps into the World of Big Data

Weronika Witek from Britenet took the stage to discuss entering the world of big data and the steps to take for a successful career in this domain. Her presentation offered invaluable insights into the world of big data and its significance in today’s tech landscape. 

Weronika’s expertise served as a guiding light for aspiring data professionals, inspiring them to embrace the world of big data and explore its vast opportunities.

Thanks to Weronika and the power of networking, SUSO is now a part of the IT Girls volunteer group, whose mission is to increase the number of women working in technology professions. The foundation’s workshops aim to inspire kids to pursue careers related to technology and IT. Our goal is to showcase that IT is not solely about programming, and individuals with various interests and backgrounds can find something suitable for them in this field. Moreover, we want to emphasize that our actions are inclusive.

SUSO is now a part of the IT Girls volunteer group

SUSO is now a part of the IT Girls volunteer group

Panel Discussion 3: Essential Competencies for Women in the IT Industry

The third and final panel, titled “Essential Competencies for Women in the IT Industry,” moderated by me, focused on the crucial competencies women should possess in the IT sector. 

Panellists Magdalena Owsiana from Wunderman Thompson Technology, Dorota Kuciel-Rzepka from Santander, and Jakub Szulc from B.Braun engaged in a lively discussion about the best practices employed by IT companies worldwide to support women in the industry. 

The discussion covered topics such as supporting women in IT, best practices in global companies, and key competencies in the IT industry. The panellists shared their experiences and insights, highlighting the importance of diversity and the tools and methods for acquiring and enhancing both soft and hard skills.

The discussion concluded with a list of inspirations, tools, and practices that can be implemented in companies to support women in the IT sector.

Panel Discussion: Essential Competencies for Women in the IT Industry

The conference concluded with a networking session accompanied by refreshments, providing an opportunity to exchange contacts, schedule mentoring sessions, seek further details from the speakers, and explore possibilities for future collaborations. The power of networking proved to be truly remarkable.

Women in IT' conference

Attending the ‘Women in IT’ conference was an empowering and enlightening experience that truly highlighted the potential of women in the tech industry. I got to meet so many incredible women who’ve smashed through IT barriers, and their stories of never giving up, thinking outside the box, and leading with passion have become my guiding stars on this awesome journey!


Marta Kozlowska

Marta Kozlowska, Account Manager at SUSO Digital

Building the SUSO Brand Through Employee Support and a People-First Culture

At SUSO, we believe that a strong brand is not just about what we offer externally but also about fostering a people-first culture within our organisation. We prioritise supporting our employees and aligning their values with ours. This approach has not only helped us attract like-minded individuals but has also contributed to the growth of our socially responsible business. 

Networking plays a crucial role in our journey towards social responsibility, enabling us to connect with partners who share our vision and create a positive impact on our community. Our commitment to social responsibility and empowering women at SUSO has reaffirmed the importance of building a diverse and inclusive work environment. 

“As someone who took part in the “Women in IT conference I have to say that it was very encouraging to get to know stories of women who succeeded to make a name for themselves in what is still considered to be a male-dominated field. The presentations were very interesting, and the fact that lectures were mixed with discussion panels ensured that all participants, including myself, were kept engaged throughout the entire event. Will definitely attend the next one!”


Oliwia Zawadzka

Oliwia Zawadzka, Content Writer at SUSO Digital

By supporting our employees and fostering a culture that values individual growth, we not only strengthen our brand but also create a positive impact on society. Through networking and inspiring others to explore their passions, we can build a brighter future together, one where everyone can thrive and contribute to a better world.

Women in IT conference

“The Women in IT conference was inspiring due to the diverse range of topics covered in the lectures and panels. The organisers succeeded in inviting experienced individuals who emphasised the value of creating diverse teams and supporting women in choosing career paths that are often chosen by men, using examples from their professional careers.”


Klaudia Piatek

Klaudia Piatek, Senior HR Specialist at SUSO Digital

Empowering Women in the Workplace: Reflections from TechUniverCity

As a woman, attending the TechUniverCity conference was a transformative experience for me. It highlighted the significance of gender representation in the IT industry and inspired me to become an advocate for supporting other women in the workplace. 

For the past 7 years, I have been mentoring both men and women, and now, I feel even more equipped to provide support to others. Additionally, I have been a mentee since high school, and I strongly advocate for this form of learning. While everyone’s journey is unique, for me, mentoring means witnessing the real-life experiences of inspiring individuals, learning from their successes and challenges, and gaining valuable insights from their wealth of experience.

“The Women in IT conference was a great inspiration and underscored the crucial role that women have played as pioneers in numerous industries, including IT. It highlighted the significant impact of how diverse teams can craft more robust and effective solutions by incorporating a broader spectrum of experiences and perspectives. We also learned that emphasising the role of women in the tech industry can not only foster role models but also help utilise the complete talent pool available on the market. I highly recommend this event and look forward to the next edition.”


Robert Kujawa

Robert Kujawa, Account Manager at SUSO Digital

Conclusion: A Journey of Empowerment and Growth

As I look back on the TechUniverCity Conference, I am filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Witnessing the growth and empowerment of attendees was truly rewarding. The conference not only strengthened our employer branding initiatives at SUSO but also fostered a community of support and encouragement for women in the tech industry.

The workshops, lectures, and discussions demonstrated that creating an inclusive and empowering environment is essential for nurturing talent and driving innovation. The involvement of inspiring individuals like Dame Stephanie Shirley reinforced our commitment to fostering diversity and equal opportunities in the tech world.

Together with WSB Merito University, Łukasz Szalankiewicz, and the entire team at SUSO, I am committed to continuing our efforts to empower individuals in the tech community. TechUniverCity has ignited a spark of change, and we are determined to fuel this fire further in future events and initiatives.

By nurturing a culture of equality, collaboration, and skill development, we can usher in a new era of innovation and progress in the IT industry. Empowering women in technology is not just an aspiration; it is an imperative. Together, we can create a future where every individual, regardless of gender, can unleash their full potential and shape the tech world for the better. 

As the TechUniverCity Conference drew to a close, it left an indelible mark on all attendees. The workshops, lectures, and panel discussions revealed the transformative power of a diverse and inclusive IT industry. Fostering equal representation and empowering women to thrive in this sector is not only vital for promoting gender equality but also essential for driving innovation and growth. 

I am very happy that SUSO Digital is involved in such important, socially responsible initiatives.

I want to use this occasion to thank my team again for organizing the event with me. It wouldn’t be possible without Agata Pona, Andrew Oleksik, Julia Łysakowska, Klaudia Piątek, Robert Kujawa, Marta Kozłowska, Oleksandra Bondar, Klaudia Kaczmarek, Oliwia Zawadzka, Filip Ruprich, Hetvi Thakker.

I am already looking forward to next year’s event co-organized with Uniwersytet WSB Merito Poznań! I hope to see you there!

Appendix

Videos from the event can be found here, here and here.

Photos from the conference by our very own Robert Kujawa can be found here.

Dame Shirley’s TED video can be found here.

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