Part III of a 3-part series by Jessica Khaimova
As is often the case in tech (and other STEM fields), women are underrepresented. This is not just a problem in the US, but all over the world. Let’s see how it is in the Start-Up Nation. In 2014, women constituted 35.5% of the total workers in Israeli high tech (25% in the US) while tech companies employ 8.2% of the national workforce (5.7% in the US). Even though the numbers are higher in Israel, there is still a clear gender gap, especially when it comes to wages and the number of women who hold executive positions. In fact, only 9% of technology startups around Tel Aviv (Silicon Wadi) are headed by women, similar to Silicon Valley.
In her interview with Haaretz, Prof. Dafna Kariv, the head of the strategy and development department at Rishon LeZion’s College of Management, shed light on why she thinks women are a rarity in Israeli high-tech. She thinks that female entrepreneurs work in more traditional sectors like apparel, fashion and lifestyle. “These three sectors produce less money and less growth. Second, the startup world is very male, and it simply deters women. Statistics show that even if the idea is the woman’s she’ll take a man with her,” she added.
Also, the process for learning tech should start earlier. For example, a girl could help her dad fix the car, build something out of Legos, and satiate her curiosity for the world. However, the opposite is encouraged in our society, as seen in Verizon’s “Inspire Her Mind” commercial. The problem only grows from here. Because there aren’t many women in tech and thereby a lack of role models, it can be intimidating for women to enter the field.
So, what is being done to alleviate these problems and make the high tech world embrace women and vice-versa?
Every country has their initiatives, be it international, that serve to empower females to become more active in STEM. In Israel, WMN and WIT are two of among many that aim to do this. WMN is a social initiative that provides community members with a co-working space, mentoring, and professional events with leaders in the industry in order to encourage more women to create start-ups. It was founded by Merav Oren, a multidisciplinary entrepreneur who also happens to be the CEO of Agora, which provides services and ideas to transform public spaces that will build stronger communities. WIT (Women Innovation, Technology) is the first international teach entrepreneurship conference for women that began in 2015 and invites female tech bloggers and entrepreneurs worldwide. Women from India, Israel, USA, Germany, Russia, Poland and China had the opportunity to experience the Start-Up Nation firsthand last summer. The conference includes talks from top innovators in the tech world; visits to high-tech hubs in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem; get-togethers with potential investors, entrepreneurship centers, and accelerators; and a start-up pitch competition. Also, the Israeli Vietnamese embassy is launching a new, international, female-only startup competition called Startup Tel Aviv in September 2016. Germany, Spain, Finland, Norway, Italy, Korea, Japan, India, and Russia will be among the 39 other countries participating. There is also a TEDxTelAvivWomen event where successful female entrepreneurs speak to share their stories and help to inspire others.
Motherhood is another thing to consider when thinking about the low number of women in tech. Of course, many women want to raise a family and work, which is great, but how will they manage their time? It’s tricky. “Many women compromise on their professional ability so they can take their children to preschool. There are so many women with PhDs who are overqualified for their jobs. In the world of entrepreneurship, they not only can empower their professional side, they can help the world,” said Prof. Kariv.
Thankfully, to address this, Google has devised a new initiative, Campus for Moms, which is based in Tel Aviv. The program offers nine weekly classes “designed to give women on maternity leave a boost toward opening their own ventures in a country whose economy is dependent on innovation,” according to BloombergTechnology. Many start-ups are being created thanks to this. Google is now opening similar programs in Krakow, Poland and London, England to address this issue worldwide.
Israel’s mandatory military service may also affect the gender gap in the tech scene. “Hilla Brenner, founder of Yazamiyot, a women’s entrepreneurial group that worked with Google to create Campus for Moms, [told BloombergTechnology] that the country’s mandatory military service of two years for women and three years for men is also partly to blame for muting female business dreams. Women often have to accommodate their husbands’ armed-forces duties or delay careers because of their own.”
Brenner, a 38-year-old mother of three who raised $5 million for her first start-up when she was nine months pregnant, added: “To become an entrepreneur, you need to be completely involved in something else besides your family. This is more difficult in Israel than in other places because your partner does reserve duty, sacrificing for his country, while you sacrifice for the kids.”
To conclude, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to initiatives to make women better represented in tech. Since this is a relatively “new” field, there are still numerous problems to address. “Like in most other places in the world of tech, women entrepreneurs in Israel are still under-represented. Projects like ‘Google Campus’ [and] ‘Campus For Moms’ are great, but there’s much work to be done,” said Assaf Luxembourg. “There is a lot of potential in this.”
Read Part I of Jessica’s 3-part series at Summer in Start Up Nation
Read Part II of Jessica’s 3-part series at A Start Up Nation Summer
About the Author
Jessica Khaimova, a native New Yorker, graduated from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College in June 2016 with Bachelor's Degrees in environmental and atmospheric science and fiction writing. She is an avid fan of writing, astronomy, science fiction shows (such as Doctor Who), tea, tech, autumn, and cats.
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