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Does the world of science belong to men? Interview with Aleksandra Gasztold, PhD, UW profesor

Over the last two decades, the exposure of women in science has improved significantly. In the 21st century in almost every civilized country access to education is universal – education can be received by anyone. However, it is worth mentioning some statistics – out of 959 statuettes awarded since 1901 as part of the Nobel Prize, only 61 were awarded to women [1]. This data is controversial, as statistically more women are enrolled in higher education. Has the scientific world been permanently dominated by men?

One can go so far as to say that the film Sexmission, directed by Juliusz Machulski, has been watched by almost every Pole and every Polish woman. Certainly, the text Copernicus was a woman was memorable to many viewers. However, Nicolaus Copernicus was a man, as was Alfred Nobel. In the context of the latter figure, it is worth mentioning some statistics – of the 959 statuettes awarded since 1901 as part of the Nobel Prize, only 61 of them have been presented to women [1]. 

In 2016, the L’oreal published a report, entitled Beautiful Minds, which included a number of studies and surveys on women in science. Analyzing the results, we can see a shocking disparity in the perception of scientists and female scientists, to the disadvantage of the latter. 73% of women believe that both sexes have the innate competence to achieve scientific success, while the same percentage among men is much lower – 59% [2].

Today’s interview guest is a political scientist Aleksandra Gasztold, PhD, Professor at the University of Warsaw, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Applied Cybersecurity and Internet Governance (ACIG), published by the National Research Institute NASK. It is worth mentioning that Prof. Gasztold serves as Secretary General of Women in International Security for Poland (WIIS Poland). She is the author of publications on terrorism research and intelligence studies.

Professor, you are the author of the academic paper Beyond or In the Midst of the Masculinized Intelligence Community in Poland published in the prestigious ‘Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence’. Where did you get the idea to take up this topic?

In the academic year 2021/2022, I taught classes – intelligence studies. These were lectures at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw for students majoring in Homeland Security. I specialize in the issue of women’s participation in terrorism, so I broadened my interests to include the position of women in counter-threat institutions. This was not my first research project about the role of women in shaping security. I serve as Secretary General of Women in International Security for Poland, so I have the opportunity to “add women” to the security debate in public discourse as well. As part of WIIS Poland, we are involved in promoting the UN Women, Peace, Security Agenda (WPS Agenda). Among other things, we participated in the consultations of the Polish National Action Plan for the implementation of this agenda in 2018. The issue of women’s activism is close to my heart, so the idea of analyzing gender diversity in intelligence and counterintelligence institutions came naturally. Some of the interviews I conducted for this study had to be anonymized due to national security needs. In some institutions, the number of women in leadership positions is limited, hence indicating a specific structure would make it possible to identify an individual. The greatest disproportion is found primarily in institutions strictly related to the military (and it’s not just management). General reports on the participation of women in selected countries, including Poland, in police and military structures, but also in diplomacy, politics and business are co-produced at WIIS Poland in the annual #SHEcurity Index report. The research on the status of women in intelligence agencies was also a bit of a provocation. Whenever there is a question from the scientific community: “Kindly provide me with statistics on the percentage of women in the structures…”, it causes confusion. Sometimes the simple question “Where are the women?” is the impetus for change. My impression is that some ad hoc institutions have prepared so-called gender equality plans or codes of ethics that take into account, among other things, the problems of discrimination and bullying. It is difficult for me to say whether good practices and recommendations are being implemented because the evaluation mechanism in Poland’s security institutions is opaque.

If we’re already on gender diversity in the workforce, what is your opinion on quotas – in business – or in scientific institutions?

It depends. In the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at UW, for example, there are a lot of women, but I see a problem with promotions. Although looking at the list of publications and research grants from the last evaluation for the period 2017-2021, women are undoubtedly more successful, disciplined and internationalized in my environment. Often achieving better results, but this does not always translate into promotions. If we look at the time between doctorate and habilitation – or professorship, it is longer than for men. This is due to a number of factors, including maternity leave, but also the tendency to place more organizational responsibilities on women or the lack of support from management elites. Decision-making positions at universities are mostly held by men, with women tending to be in administrative roles or delegated to teaching management. This is fortunately changing in many centers. Stereotypically, women are supposed to be more effective in organizational work, and the onslaught of responsibilities often slows down their professional development. Indeed, the limited presence of women obtaining professorships within disciplines such as political science and administration or security science may be a covert manifestation of prejudice and sexism by placing greater demands on women. There are many female political scientists breaking these stereotypes, it is worth pointing out, among others, Prof. Dr Jolanta Itrich-Drabarek (Warsaw University), a member of the Council for Scientific Excellence, and Prof. Dr Magdalena Musiał-Karg (Adam Mickiewicz University) president of the Polish Political Science Association.

On the other hand, in the second institution I am associated with, the National Research Institute NASK, it looks completely different. Here there are many more women in management positions, which is why we are involved in the Ministry of Digitization’s “CyberPowerful” campaign; showing by our own example that IT is also for women. Prof. Joanna Kolodziej, representing NASK and the Cracow University of Technology, was recently listed as one of the leading IT specialists, of which we are immensely proud. As in other centres, a Gender Equality Plan directed at creating a friendly working environment for all has been developed. Also, in creating the scientific journal Applied Cybersecurity and Internet Governance at NASK, we made every effort to invite both women and men representing all continents to the International Scientific Council. The number of incoming articles authored by women in technical fields is impressive. 

Very often women, when looking for jobs in professions related to new technologies or cybersecurity, think that an offer is not targeted at them, which is not the case at all. Sometimes a small change, even the use of feminatives in job offers, is enough to encourage female candidates to apply. Introducing pro-female solutions in institutions or offices makes the comfort level improve. A possible problem can be observed in the legacy of patriarchal culture, which sometimes appears in the narrative layer, especially annoying when working in teams. And undoubtedly, security is teamwork. A man, when presenting a project, sometimes speaks through the lens of “I”, while a woman in the same position will say “we” or “my/our team”. What I mean here is such a learned modesty, related to lack of self-confidence. Of course, there are nationwide community initiatives, such as the aforementioned WIIS Poland and the International Women’s Club, Mothers Academics, FemGlobal, where women advise each other on a wide range of issues concerning their professional activities. Good practices in equality and anti-discrimination solutions are also promoted. Such networking gives support, reliable information and teaches sisterhood. If we want to strive for change (even a small change), solidarity is needed. I, for one, am waiting for such a change that if there is a scientific conference, my supervisor will guarantee that my children will be taken care of so that I can attend the late afternoon session or banquet. I want – as a parent, as a mother – to be able to attend events after 4 pm which I organize. This is also an element that universities have begun to be sensitive to in recent years, with most meetings and deliberations taking place in the forenoon.

Regarding responsibilities – during a workshop I had the opportunity to attend recently I heard that as a woman I have to work twice as hard for my success. How do you address this as a woman who has already achieved this success? What might such a statement be based on?

At the UW, indeed, peer pressure, proving a certain ability and skill to be found in science was much more noticeable due to overt and covert criticism (which is more painful). It is difficult for me to clearly indicate whether this pressure was due to the influence of the environment or my ambitions, or perhaps family traditions. I come from a family of scientists and also my husband “does science”, so education is present in my life with no distinction between private and public. As for my career path, I was inspired by the words of my parents, who often said that what I learn, no one can take away from me. In life, you can lose everything, but the degrees and titles will only be for me and I don’t have to share it with anyone. I tell my students the same thing. I hope they will be proud of what they earn themselves as I am. 

Going back to your question, there is certainly a far greater wave of criticism directed at women in the Polish scientific community, especially from those who are not very effective. And it is incredibly hurtful that in some hierarchical institutions it takes civil courage to promote hard-working and effective people. The colloquial statement that employees are divided into two types: those who come to work and those who work can also be observed in universities. On the other hand, I increasingly notice that the affected communities are looking for support. What I miss at Polish universities is teaching young male and female researchers to be assertive. I’m not talking about arrogance, I mean a belief in the power of one’s reason and competence. Pathologies exist, but there are also mechanisms to combat them. It all depends on the procedures and the leader/team leader. 

Let me refer here to the report Beautiful Minds of the L’oreal brand. It shows that as many as 67% of those surveyed cite ability as a factor preventing women from holding senior scientific positions. How can we as a society combat such thinking?

Education, education and more education. In writing about feminist perspectives in security studies myself, I am, in a way, taking cognizance of the women’s rights and anti-discrimination advocacy community in Poland. It is a heterogeneous, conflicted environment; it often uses aggressive and provocative language. I understand that this stems from frustration, but this frustration should lead to the development of interfaces and good practices. Personally, I was fortunate that my dad is a feminist, so once again – let’s look for allies (also among this “other side”, without this a change will be more difficult). I brought from home the belief that the mind and the hunger for knowledge have no gender. I can’t naively believe that the same pattern was perpetuated in other families, but I can talk about it and try to convince others by giving examples.

Take, for example, feminatives – I believe they are being rediscovered in the Polish language. The notation for certain professions like “policjantka”, “żołnierka” should be included in the legal regulations, because it has come into use. No one will say “policewoman,” and we still have such absurdities in Polish regulations, such as a pregnant soldier, or a policeman on maternity leave. I do not force anyone to call me “professor,” nor am I myself offended by the phrase “Mrs. Professor,” because I work in the position of a professor. However, I react strongly when, at business events, such as a national scientific conference, the moderator addresses a professor with his full title and degree, as well as his first and last name, and introduces a woman only by her first name using a diminutive. These are formal events and such situations cannot take place because they are a manifestation of unequal treatment. This is a common phenomenon in the daily press as well – when the protagonist of a news cube or article is a man, his first name and last name and further in the text are given, while with women only the first name is given, belittling her importance as a rational actor of events. 

Returning to education – training schemes and debates are important. Universities and research institutes have implemented equality plans and anti-discrimination training, which are very popular. I believe that gender issues can be combined with other forms of discrimination like skin colour, ethnicity, worldview, etc. This is because in public opinion words like “gender” or “feminism” are negatively associated, which is skillfully used in the public debate in conflating different communities on pressing social issues. It is possible to avoid the word “feminism” or “gender” and continue to talk about equality policy and conduct awareness-raising campaigns.

When I decided in 2009 to study counterterrorism issues, I knew that the expert community was masculinized. However, I met a lot of researchers who didn’t mind my development. And that is definitely enough. Personally, I have always been very lucky with the women I met (and still meet) on my path, hence they instilled in me the idea of sisterhood, although they were often very lonely themselves. I try to surround myself with people who inspire me, and people who negatively influence my comfort level – I avoid. I am at such a stage in my career that I can afford to do so. 

Referring to the takeover of specific zones – does the phenomenon of the glass ceiling, which can be observed in business or politics, currently operate in Polish universities? If so, is it due to a kind of fear of feminization of managerial positions due to women’s organizational skills?

In 2018, a report Women in Polish Political Science was produced. As part of the work on the report, a number of female academics from Poland were interviewed and spoke about their experiences, including promotion. The document itself points to many discriminatory issues and mechanisms in the political science community. It was important but ostentatiously ignored in many research centres. At my alma mater, we held a meeting to promote the results and one person came… one person. The question was about courage – and this is the answer. 

Today I find it difficult to judge, I would need qualitative and quantitative research. I work in teams led by both men and women. I myself head the Publishing Innovation Team at NASK, where there is only one man. In any case, it depends on many factors – skills, competencies, and the way we relate to each other as well as see each other. In management, social competence is the key. For many years I have been creating and giving opinions on analytical projects dt. the scope of typing terrorist threats – the requirement imposed by me is to work in mixed groups. Completely different results of work with the scenario method and foresight were achieved by gender-homogeneous and mixed groups. Diversification of ideas and hypotheses was higher in the latter. Diverse life experiences resulted in big-small discoveries.

Significant to me is the underestimation of the role of women in shaping security. For example, in peace negotiations, women perform better – significantly influencing peacekeeping and directing the needs of agreements to the expectations of local communities. Previously, women were excluded from diplomacy, yet they co-create everyday reality, so they should be added to negotiating teams.

If we are already at students – the RAD-on system’s data for 2021 shows that more than 708,000 women and more than 499,000 men were studying in Poland at that time. In the same year, there were more than 47.8 thousand women academics in our country and about 52.1 thousand men holding this position. The title of professor was held by 2749 thousand women and 7476 thousand men [4]. What is the reason for this disparity? We have such a trend at the moment that more women are studying, but in the professorship, we have a definite dominance of men.

This is a complex problem that is influenced by many factors – including economic, demographic, cultural and religious factors, as well as functioning stereotypes or specific social roles assigned to women. Mass media play a large role in perpetuating the brakes on women’s activism in many sectors. Also, the individual decision to pursue academic work is not easy. First of all, because the financial prospect is daunting. It simply doesn’t pay – the rates at universities compared to those offered by corporations, for example, are grossly low. Often women choose to work in the private market after college to guarantee their financial security. This can also be dictated by the decision to start a family, but also a lot of people after their doctorate choose a career in the West or move to the private sector. It is worth noting that professors in Poland are mostly men. The vision of service dependence and being judged by a male audience can be uncomfortable. I’ve often heard that I’m “too young” for something, no matter what stage of my career I was at. I was happy to announce on social media recently that I had found my first grey hair, which means that this argument may no longer be used by sympathetic colleagues. Approaching such situations with humour is my solution, but not everyone’s strength would indicate where gender inequality begins. The

situation varies within the various fields of science, it is difficult to compare the humanities (e.g., the discipline of linguistics) with the field of engineering and technical sciences (e.g., the discipline of mechanical engineering). Analysis of scientific activity in the field of certain areas allows us to hypothesize a “male exclusivity” in guiding the development of particular disciplines. This may have the effect of promoting patriarchal principles through career advancement. Men support each other, and analyzing the birth dates of current professors in many areas of science, they “went” by year. Fellow students support each other later in their careers, and so far more men have been there. Women, therefore, do not have access to these “networks of old acquaintances,” and thus – resources that determine promotions, such as access to grants, positions, etc. However, the hegemony of men among researchers and “zealous censors” with the power to shape reality is being transformed. Women may have a problem supporting each other, perceiving each other as a threat due to the fact that they are simply scarce in certain disciplines.

In fact, if the only support for women is often the family, it is probably very difficult to gather the strength to pursue this scientific path. As an aside, there are opinions that scholarship programs on science that are aimed exclusively at women hit the opposite sex. What is your opinion on this subject?

As part of WIIS Poland, in cooperation with Northrop Grumman, we initiated a mentoring program for female students related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) last year, and it was met with criticism: why men were excluded. But look at the number of women in STEM or the number of female students in technical fields. This needs support, and I will always keep my fingers crossed for such projects because they build a network between women who exchange their experience and allow this experience to be added to the story of the modern condition of science. This is incredibly important because women’s experience is often different from men’s in their careers, and when stories, HERstories, about career obstacles are created, men become familiar with them as well. They may also become sensitized to certain issues. I think this simply involves a greater understanding of the idea of equality. Demand from the second wave of feminism – adding women does not mean excluding men.

How to fight with stereotypes about female scientists?

The fight is a strong word and implies the use of violence – whether verbal or physical. Rather, it is worth building awareness. Any negative phenomenon generated by a man can be eliminated by working at the grassroots. And this education should start at the preschool and school levels. Children have no problem using the word “naukowczyni” or “profesorka.” Superiors at universities have a much bigger problem, and it’s amazing. A child isn’t surprised that her mother teaches counterterrorism or electrical engineering, while her colleague is surprised. Social campaigns need to diversify their distribution channels, where most of the communities they should reach are operating in a new technological reality. Younger people are not using traditional media, but social media (e.g. Instagram, or TikTok). Facebook is used predominantly by middle-aged, and LinkedIn is a network of professionals – people who focus on career development. You need to know where and how to reach a specific audience. Besides, nothing helps counteract a certain phenomenon as much as simply setting a good example.


1. The Nobel Prize List available on the Nobel Prize website, accessed: 10. 05. 2023; URL:

2. L’oreal Beautiful Minds 2016 Brand Report; accessed: 03. 05. 2023; URL:

3. Biography of dr hab. Aleksandry Gasztold, professor at the University of Warsaw, published on the website of the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw, accessed: 03. 05. 2023; URL:

4. Statistics on academic teachers, published on the government website of RADON; accessed: 10. 05. 2023 r. ;URL:

Aleksandra Gasztold
Magdalena Marynowska
A student of law and international relations at the University of Warsaw, a multiple laureate of literary competitions, including poetry contests. I gained editorial experience as a leader of the social project “Nie Dotykaj Mnie,” where my main task was creating educational content for the project’s social media. I also had the opportunity to co-write the script for an educational film within the project. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, I worked as an Operations Specialist at the non-profit organization Student Initiative for Education, where my responsibilities included developing partnerships with cultural and entertainment centers throughout Poland and co-organizing events for Ukrainian children and youth. Privately, I am a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver.
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Magdalena Marynowska & Aleksandra Gasztold, PhD, UW professor

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