We would like to start with a short introduction.

Dr Karolina Lipińska is a local government official with 20 years of experience, responsible for the development of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. She worked in international structures, where she learned about the mechanisms of interregional cooperation and appreciated the importance of networking resulting in the creation of international projects and initiatives. She coordinated the actions related to the implementation of the first regional policy for cluster development in Poland. The support models and good practices introduced in the Pomeranian Voivodeship were later implemented at national level (National Key Clusters).

She currently coordinates the activities related to the Regional Innovation Strategy, the key element of which are Pomeranian Smart Specializations as well as Pomeranian Offshore Platform. Member of the cluster policy team at the Polish Ministry of Development and Technology and Smart Specialisation Strategies Expert Group set up by DG REGIO of the European Commission. Observing the phenomena and processes taking place in the region, she notices the essence of the importance of entrepreneurial culture, mentality, motivation and creativity.

She has the opportunity to research these phenomena scientifically on the basis of her doctoral dissertation results on the impact of informal institutions on the financing of R&D in enterprises. She publishes and gives lectures at the Gdansk University of Technology in the field of project management, innovation processes and EU funds. Expert in Women’s Council at the Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. 

Could you describe your organisation in a few words?

The Marshal’s Office performs the statutory tasks of the Pomeranian Voivodeship Self-Government. The Department of Economic Development that I represent is responsible for innovation policy and energy, as well as economic promotion and international cooperation. We also conduct the process of entrepreneurial discovery as part of smart specializations of Pomerania and cluster policy in the region, cooperating with many economic partners and organizations.

The cluster policy has a long history of operation in Pomerania since already in 2009 – 2010 we organized competitions for regional key clusters, which laid the foundations for the development of 4 smart specializations: offshore and port and logistics technologies, ICT, energy efficiency and medical technologies. In 2021 the POMERANIAN WOMEN COUNCIL was established, an opinion-making and advisory body of the Management Board of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. Its most important task is to raise awareness of equal treatment of women and men in terms of work, remuneration, professional opportunities, and promotion of women.

The Council analyses the activities of organizations, local governments, and other entities in the field of equality practices. Its primary task is to prepare a report on the situation in the region in terms of equal rights for women and men, diagnose barriers and recommend a system for promoting equality practices and policies in this area.

Could you give us some facts and figures, or a description of the status-quo related to the situation of gender equality in your region? What are the challenges encountered?

The gender pay gap at median earnings in Poland (10%) is one of the lowest in the OECD countries (the OECD average is 16%). Women in Poland are more likely to have permanent employment than men and to work in professional occupations. The proportion of women managers in Poland (36%) is one of the highest among OECD countries (the average is 32%).

Compared to other European countries, Poland has a relatively low gender pay gap of gross 4.5% according to EUROSTAT in 2021 (Global Gender Gap Report 2022) meaning the difference between average gross hourly earnings of male and female employees as %. In comparison, the EU average is 13%.

We have quite many women scientists who work at Polish universities, and even in eastern Poland this indicator is the highest in the EU and amounts to 53%. According to The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, the University of Gdańsk ranks as first in Poland and 13th in the world when it comes to gender equality measures implemented and their commitment to recruiting and promoting women.

However, apart from these examples, there are still stereotypes that exist in the Polish society. It is important to raise the awareness about the shortfall in women’s representation across Europe and share insights into sore spots, as well as how leaders in the industry can encourage female growth and uptake in the world of tech. 

We have a lot of examples of activities and good practices that have been implemented in Pomorskie Voivodeship for several years. A few examples are worth pointing out here. WOMEN BUILD SHIPS TOO is a project of the Gdańsk Entrepreneurship Foundation Incubator STARTER, the aim of which is to strengthen the leadership competences of women working in the maritime and logistics industry, increase their visibility as experts and promote their work among young people. The inauguration of the project in 2019 coincided with the World Maritime Day organized by the International Maritime Organization under the slogan “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community”. The project also implemented the recommendations of the Gdańsk Model of Equal Treatment regarding non-stereotypical career choices.

The implemented activities included a mentoring program, with workshops developing key competences for leaders: eliminating discrimination in the workplace, communication and team building skills. The one I really love is MARCH ON HIGH HEELS – a series of meetings, workshops and webinars for women, organized by the Voivodeship Labor Office since 2014 with the participation of 1000-2000 women. It is addressed to women from the region who are looking for employment, plan to return to work or are just starting it, want to develop their skills and consciously choose the path of professional development a) nd are looking for inspiration for new activities. We also organised the EDU OFFSHORE WIND 2023 career fair aiming to showcase comprehensive career paths for young people and to infuse them with passion for green energy, regardless of gender.

What levers do you see possible to address these challenges or to improve the situation you just described? Where do you see clusters playing a role in the process?

In the face of changes and fast-progressing technologies, it is crucial to look for advantages in building competitiveness, in particular among SMEs. Therefore, the purpose of the POMERANIAN WOMEN COUNCIL is to build a stronger gender culture in the Pomeranian companies. SMEs struggle to understand the business model for gender equality. Even if they try to implement equality postulates, they often face the challenge of “how to do it in practice”. Therefore, there is a need to build the capacity of SMEs to develop gender-sensitive business models and a gender-equal working culture.

At the political level, a better framework for implementing measures to help SMEs stay competitive, innovate and create new market opportunities needs to be developed. Clusters, as “creators of change”, are an excellent tool to support SMEs in undertaking the activities, being key actors in the design and implementation of Pomeranian Smart Specializations. This iss why we have decided to participate in the project DEBUTING, co-financed by the Interreg Europe Programme – a new perspective of gender equality as a factor of SME competitiveness, with an innovative approach – through clusters and smart specialisations. We intend to implement new business models as well as planning to promote equality practices and policies based on inclusiveness.

In Pomorskie, we are going to concentrate on promotion of equality in the workplace, developing culture at work that includes women, focus on those areas of education and employment where women are a minority and which are important from the point of view of the region, i.e. the modern technology sector, maritime, ICT and energy (www.interregeurope.eu/DEBUTING).

We also aim to make existing measures and policies more effective and to improve their monitoring and evaluation with appropriate indicators. The project goal is also increasing the awareness and capacity of policy-makers and clusters to treat gender equality in industry and economy as a key factor for the development and competitiveness of SMEs.

Generally speaking, the greatest leverage is to have the knowledge and be aware of the changes taking place. This also applies to gender policy at every stage of development of a company or institution. It is also about women’s awareness of market entry barriers and how to overcome them. Showing good examples and encouraging women to face challenges is the key. Clusters play an important role in this process because as strong platforms of cooperation of companies and scientific institutions, they can break the barriers and stereotypes.

A good example of such initiative is certainly a project called WOMANIZE IT prepared by our biggest ICT cluster INTERIZON (also the biggest SMEs cluster in Poland – a national key cluster). According to the newest WOMAN IN TECH Report 2023, Europe’s IT talent shortage is growing by the minute. Getting more women into tech could be the best solution for companies looking for skilled tech professionals. I is not a secret that women are underrepresented in tech. In Europe, around 28% of tech workers are women. By 2030, the demand for skilled tech workers is bound to exceed the supply. This creates a perfect opportunity for more female tech professionals.

The project WOMANIZE IT aims to reduce barriers in women’s access to the IT market by increasing their awareness, motivation, support, and ultimately by building a proactive attitude. The project will enable a real support for career development in the IT area, and what is more, it will also show the huge opportunities offered by the IT world. This initiative will verify the difficulties faced by women on the IT market, including the fear of change or the decision to work and develop this career. This is the first and most important step that must be taken consciously.

A very important challenge is also to break the common belief of women that “this industry is not for them” and that it is a “typically male profession”. The main activities undertaken: a series of recordings preparing women for change, in particular: choosing the right course offer; showing at how low costs you can prepare for change; showing further actions to effectively use the opportunity for development; showing the “success story” – promotion of successful women with a history of their career development and financial support for candidates of the “Vouchers for courses” project.

Would you say working on gender mainstreaming can bring solutions to other challenges you observe (retaining female human resources in organisations by addressing issues such as equality in wages, work-life balance, fight against sexist acts, populating rural areas, etc.)?

For sure yes! In Poland, in particular regarding policy instruments, issues related to gender equality and women’s representation are still way behind those of other more developed and gender-conscious economies. The greatest challenge for the Pomeranian Voivodeship is to increase the awareness of women who want to return to the labor market. Statistics show that very well-educated women stay at home (we are number one in Poland in this respect). This is one of the many barriers to overcome and practical preparation of women to return to the professional world to unleash their potential is needed.

That is why we plan to prepare a practical handbook showing various sides and opportunities in sectors that are well-paid and underrepresented by women. The idea should provide an in-depth examination of the market focusing on industries with the highest development potential where women are underrepresented, such as IT, maritime or energy sectors. This analysis will serve as a guideline to create policies which are tailored to the regional needs, bearing in mind the level of development, specificity of the regional economy, regional smart specialisation strategy and also a rather low presence of women in certain sectors of the economy which are of particular interest to the region.

To create and design policy instruments to increase the share of women in those sectors and to recognize opportunities and barriers for women on the job market, we need to have a comprehensive picture of women’s positions with regard to education and the labor market. The report we wish to have should take into account the current and future development trends in the selected industries and indicate the possible impact on the role of women in those sectors. We plan to have it ready by mid-2025. 

How would you describe the added value being a woman leading Regional Innovation Strategy and influencing the industrial development in a region? What are your challenges but also the  opportunities and what is the perspective of a woman enabling policy change?

It is worth emphasizing that clusters in the Pomeranian Voivodeship are the foundation of smart specializations. Interdisciplinarity of activities and groups in which clusters operate may contribute to increasing awareness in the field of gender policy, participation of women in the labor market and the need for an individual and flexible approach to employment including flexible schedules, remote working possibilities, and a steady paycheck. Combining the professional world and the passion associated with it with family life is not easy in today’s legal conditions. I believe that clusters and smart specializations as areas with the greatest development potential to allow women to spread their wings because each new talent on the market is an added and precious value.

Currently, there are many challenges related to motivating companies and regional stakeholders to develop industries with the greatest development potential called smart specialisations. Rapidly changing technologies and the effects of the pandemic and the ongoing war beyond our borders have completely changed the perception of conducting the business including innovation processes. The digital and energy transformation leave no illusions of rapid changes and flexible response to changes. I am convinced that women are an important element of these changes and will bring great added value.

The diversity of talents today is an advantage in the global market and increases the chances of competing with partners from around the world. Such long-term changes, however, are associated with breaking stereotypes and changing mentality. And this is a process that is ongoing, and we will stay in it for a while.

What would be your closing word? Your main message on advancing gender equality approaches in companies/clusters/public authorities/governments?

Nobody supports a woman better like another woman who understands her dilemmas and problems. That is why, in the face of today’s difficult reality, it is so important to support each other and be together. Showing good examples and encouraging to changes that often mean an improvement in the quality of life. I wish all girls to be tougher and change (their) world together for the better. I am keeping my fingers crossed for them and I believe in them!