Startup Nation is shattering the glass ceiling that leaves women out of the technology sector and underpaid with its 9 revolutionary initiatives that aim to balance the gender gap. We are expecting a paradigm shift in the Israeli startup sector in the coming year that will skyrocket female-headed technological innovations in part to address the growing shortage of engineers and programmers in the nation.
Chief scientist and head of the Israel Innovation Authority Avi Hasson told that Times of Israel in December that he has outlined action plans to foster growth by targeting underrepresented populations in tech, including women. This is only one of the handful of initiatives that promises to bolster the economy by empowering women in tech.
It is encouraging that Israel has a history of high ranking women. Israeli women like Golda Meir, Shari Arison, Tzipi Livni, Ayelet Shaked, and Shelly Yachimovich have proven that women can compete in a man’s world, Israel still has ways to go for equality in the startup scene.
As it stands now, Israeli women earn about 32-42% less than male employees despite the equal wage law that mandates that employers pay equal salaries to men and women for the same job. According to Globes, women make up one-third of hi-tech employees in Israel. Israel ranks at number 21 out of 59 nations for its inclusivity of women in tech, the middle of the global average. Dell ranks Tel Aviv at 24 out of 50 for Women Entrepreneurship across the globe. And Yazamiyot, a women empowerment program, points out that less than 3% of entrepreneurs in Israel are female.
But change is happening in Israel.
Finance Ministry Chief Economist Yoel Naveh believes that closing the pay gap between genders will boost the economy. Both Naveh has and the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel have explained this phenomenon with women’s preference for “pink collar” jobs like education or health care and working fewer hours.
However, these preferences just might be situational choices due to occupational segregation for women. Women might fill tech jobs like Human Resources, Recruiting, Graphics, Content/Copywriters, Marketing Managers, Secretaries, Product Managers, SEO Specialists, and Customer Success/Community Managers, but we rarely see them in C-Level roles and Engineering positions due to gender expectations, whether conscious or not.
More women than you think might have an interest in leading the tech startup revolution, however they face to a handful of gender-related barriers that make this a challenge.
The Alpha Male syndrome in tech can be difficult for women, whereupon women often feel silenced for their ideas and less likely to speak up out of fear. I’ve certainly heard stories from colleagues who felt as if they were treated like the whiny girl with a complaint. A woman in management reported that she had to wait over a year for the male management to discover for themselves the problems with a male developer that they identified early on.
To add to this, Hadas Fuchs notes in the Bulletin for the Division of Labor for the Taub Center that “women are still thought to be their children’s primary caregivers, and to bear most of the responsibility for housework.”
For instance, a female developer I know was a mother of an infant and a toddler. She noted that technology moved so fast that she had to catch up after maternity leave. Aside from playing catch-up, she had to juggle her job requirements with childcare, which affected her ability to meet deadlines at times. And when her project manager suggested that she bring her children to work, the CEO informed the manager that the workplace was not a Gan (Hebrew: Kindergarten). Thus the project manager had to tell the developer and their female graphic designer to find alternative childcare or take multiple personal days every time the school was closed for a holiday.
This need for a work/life balance has been a real issue in the tech industry.
It is important to note that discrimination in the classroom, gender expectations, and the disparity of female role models in the high-tech sector also present obstacles for women.
For these reasons, it has been rather difficult for women to enter male-dominated educational programs and professions due to religious, family, or cultural norms across the world.
This has been gradually changing since at least World War II, when women needed to step up for their families as their husbands and fathers went to war. But when the men came home, the women returned to conventional female roles unless the family was in poverty and needed a secondary income. Some women only went to college to find a husband aka their “MRS” degree like a finishing school for better attracting a husband. However, the Women’s Suffrage Movement challenged the educational restrictions and the development of birth control opened the doors for women to compete with men in the workplace around the world.
Nevertheless, women are still trailing the heels of their male counterparts in technology.
Israel has joined the increasing global interest in female technology entrepreneurs due to the disproportionate number of female leaders in the technology (and female employees for that matter).
Israelis recognize that they still need to challenge the status quo and push the envelope much further. And they are getting there.
NGO projects and non-profits are working to reform discriminatory hiring practices, however economist Naveh believes that the government must be responsible for increasing the number of women in the technology sector in order to balance the gap while simultaneously boosting the economy.
At the end of 2016, 20 Israeli women participated in the We Act project in California’s Silicon Valley in order to promote entrepreneurship by women. The women have already been awarded millions of dollars for their projects.
And Israel’s Globes does its part by producing the monthly magazine, Lady Globes, which highlights women in Israel’s technology ecosystem.
Incidentally, OurCrowd’s Business Developer and Partner Laly David told CNBC that the current gender gap is not only a big issue worldwide, but it is also as an opportunity.
Laly explained, There’s a vacuum created around female-led ventures that are actually very successful economically because females make most of the consumption decisions globally.
Still, it is imperative for programs to develop opportunities for women in tech in order to balance the gender gap.
Mind the Gap supported by Israel Women’s Network and Shatil’s “Equal pay for Equal Work” project are collaborating in order to balance the gender pay gap, which may be one of the contributing factors to the lack of women in tech. Israel Women’s Network writes on their site that they are working towards changing “Israel’s employment practices, policies and legal reinforcement of equal pay that will eventually contribute to the elimination of the gap and will promote economic justice and equality for all women in Israel.”
In 2014, Yesh Atid’s MK Aliza Lavie advocated for an amendment to equalize salaries between men and women in the workforce. Henceforth, the Knesset (Hebrew: Assembly, National Legislature) amended the Equal Pay Law with mandatory wage reporting according to gender. The Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce is a 3-year venture funded by the European Union in partnership with social justice agencies Shatil, Israel Women’s Network, and the Adva center alongside the Equal Opportunities in Employment Commission of the Ministry of the Economy. By making salaries transparent, the agencies believe they will contribute to “institutional, policy and legal reform.”
Merave Weinryb founded and steers the Women Founders Forum (WFF) in addition to her day to day role as a Managing Director of a Venture Capitalist firm. WFF launched startup accelerators particularly geared towards female tech entrepreneurs in order to give the women particular leverage to meet their male counterparts. By 2017, they already raised over $20M for their accelerator program.
She Codes developed a community of female software developers with over 10,000 members with the goal of employing 50% women in technology within a decade. She Codes hosts a smorgasbord of events, collaborations, and educational opportunities to empower women in the Israeli tech scene. For instance, in 2014, they hosted She Con, all female Hackathon for two days. She Codes has been so successful that it has extended its branches across multiple cities in Israel; including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Eilat, and others.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) marked 2017 with a majority of females commanding the elite tech C41 Communications Corp, a first for the unit. Women have been a minority in the army tech units, however the IDF is addressing this gap now. Lieutenants have attempted to recruit female high school students to the core. With the desirability of the high-tech field, they are making improvements in the gap. It is a well-known fact that the IDF plays a vital role in the development of Israeli tech entrepreneurs due to their networking and training opportunities.
Merav Oren founded WMN, a coworking hub for women-led startups. The advisory board consists of 80% women. They have a mission to disrupt the technology ecosystem by balancing the gender gap in the startup world. They provide their members with mentorship, networking opportunities, professional development opportunities, and coworking space in order to give them a boost to reach their entrepreneurial goals. While they do not work exclusively with women, atleast one Founder or CEO of the startup must be a female.
Hilla Ovil-Brenner founded the non-profit Yazamiyot for women to network and partner together on the entrepreneurship. The network currently exceeds 1200 members. Yazamiyot also collaborates with Google in order to provide women on maternity leave startup training at Campus TLV for Moms, the world’s first baby-friendly educational venue for startup entrepreneurs.
Former Cisco program manager, Ifat Baron, pioneered ITWorks in order to address the lack of diversity in the workplace, including barriers on women. Her non-profit provides technical training, professional skills development, and job placement in the technology sector. This has even included cooperating with Upwork to help Israeli’s freelance abroad while living in Israel. It is hardly surprising that Israeli Ministry of Education identified her as a person “with the most influence in IT education in Israel” in 2010. She also won the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Prize by the Hadassah Foundation for her work with Jewish and Arab women.
The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has been working with Western Galilee College (WGC) since 2009 to give women in Northern Israel access to educational opportunities that will give them leverage in female-operated businesses. By 2014, they started hosting accelerator training programs for women. The first cohort graduated a year ago and the program is still going strong.
As I type this article, I still note my minority presence in the industry. And we at Hubsphere are doing our part to change this by giving a fair share of attention to female entrepreneurs in our Hub so they will have the same opportunities as men.
What do you think are the solutions to the gender gap in high-tech? We’d love to hear your thoughts.