Women constitute at least 50% of the population, but their presence is far less felt in the Israeli business world – at least on the upper floors where senior management sits, according to a top Intel official.

“One of the biggest problems, it appears to me, is a lack of confidence on the part of women who have the talent and the skills to get ahead, but don’t have appropriate role models. Mentoring programs, such as those we have in place at Intel Israel, can go a long way to helping build that confidence,” said Bella Abrahams, Corporate Affairs director at Intel Israel.

Although sexism is still a part of society, one would expect that its effects would be somewhat muted among the young, highly educated demographic that dominates in the tech world, and especially in startups (numerous studies place the average age of entrepreneurs who have started successful tech firms in the mid to upper thirties) – if only because male chauvinism has been out of fashion for a long time.

Yet even among tech firms, only about a quarter of mid-level to senior employees are females. The average wage gap in tech is about what it is in the rest of Israeli society – with men earning on average a third more than women who have similar experience and education.

It’s unlikely that outright sexism is behind this situation, given the plethora of rules and statutes that penalize companies for engaging in such behavior. But there are enough other reasons, said Abrahams – many of them coming from among women themselves.

“One of the most important issues for women is the public and professional perception of their role in the workplace and in the family,” she said, with women seen as caretakers and homemakers who should be home with their kids.

Bella Abrahams (Courtesy)

Bella Abrahams (Courtesy)

But that doesn’t fully explain things either, said Abrahams. According to government statistics, women constituted nearly 60 percent of people employed in academic professions; almost six out of ten college and university students were women in 2015. The Central Bureau of Statistics attributed the average 32% difference in wages between men and women in 2014 to the fact that women worked fewer hours – but even on an hour by hour basis, women were still earning 15% less than men for the same work.

“There are a lot of internal issues that prevent women from taking their rightful place in the workforce,” said Abrahams. “Self-confidence is an important issue. Many women do not know how to demand what they deserve, or see themselves as somehow not as good or deserving as men. They also do not believe they can successfully balance home or personal life and career – as men seem to do – so they give up before they even try.”

One reason for this, said Abrahams, is due to a lack of role models – successful women who have overcome the challenges and made it in business. “The lack of mentors and role models, according to many studies, is one of the most crucial elements for success. The more women see successful female managers, the more they will strive to be like them.”

The solution, said Abrahams, must come from government, with the educational system providing programs to boost the confidence of female students, but also from industry.

Intel is doing its share, according to Abrahams. The company last year set aside $300 million to hire more women and minorities as part of its Diversity in Technology initiative “to foster hiring and inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities at Intel, and to fund programs to support a more positive representation of women and underrepresented minorities in technology and gaming,” according to the company.

With more inclusion comes more female employees, leading to more female managers, leading to more mentors and role models who can help more women find their place in the tech world – creating a virtuous cycle, instead of the vicious one now keeping women from achieving what they can, said Abrahams.

“The business world has an important role in fostering change, and it needs to understand that it is in the interest of companies to bring that about,” said Abrahams. “Women are half the population, and failing to utilize their skills fully means that we are losing out on a great deal of important talent that we cannot afford to forgo. We need a more proactive policy to help women see themselves as capable of success – instead of the current ‘swim or sink’ situation, in which many women, for lack of confidence and role models, end up sinking.”