Women lead way as Haredim make inroads into Israeli tech industry, report shows

Number of ultra-Orthodox tech employees jumped by 52% in 2014-2018; 71% of them are women, according to study presented to President Rivlin

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

KamaTech's busload of Haredi women visit high-tech offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (Courtesy Natalie Schor)
KamaTech's busload of Haredi women visit high-tech offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (Courtesy Natalie Schor)

The number of ultra-Orthodox workers in the tech sector jumped by 52 percent in 2014-2018, with women blazing the trail, according to a report that came out Tuesday.

Notwithstanding the increase, however, there is significant room for improvement with regard to the number of ultra-Orthodox employees in the sector compared to their representation in the overall population, their average salary and their active entrepreneurial involvement in the startup industry.

The report was compiled by the Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI), an umbrella organization of tech players in Israel and a lobbyist for the industry, together with KamaTech, a nonprofit organization that seeks to integrate the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, population into the country’s high-tech industry, which is considered the nation’s growth engine.

The report, presented Tuesday to President Reuven Rivlin, does not discuss the impact of the coronavirus. Last week, IATI published a survey that showed that the pandemic is causing “significant difficulties” for Israeli tech firms, with 29 percent saying in July that they have fired workers, compared to 24% in a May survey.

Hats on a wall, at Ampersand, the co-working space set up by KamaTech; July 4, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Moshe Friedman, CEO and co-founder of KamaTech, said in a text message that there is no current apparent impact of the coronavirus on Haredim in the sector.

The KamaTech-IATI data shows that the number of Haredim employed in the tech sector rose to 9,700, or 3% of the tech workforce, in 2018, compared to 6,500 in 2014. The Haredi population accounted for some 12% of the overall workforce in 2018.

Out of the 9,700 Haredi tech workers, 71%, or 6,900, of them were women, compared to 2,800 men. The number of women employed in the sector as of the end of 2018 had surged 90% since 2014, the report said.

Most of them were under the age of 28 and were married, the data showed.
The higher participation of Haredi women in the tech industry is part of their higher participation in the workforce in general, the report said.

Entrepreneurs saying afternoon prayers at Ampersand, a co-working space set up by KamaTech, July 4, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The average salary of Haredim employed in the tech sector was consistently lower than those of their non-Haredi counterparts, the report showed. They earned an average NIS 10,830, compared to NIS 22,479 for workers who are non-Haredi. Those with a university degree had an average salary of NIS 25,698, compared to an average salary of NIS 34, 689 for non-Haredi tech workers with an academic degree.

The tech sector has been suffering from an acute shortage of talented workers. This has spurred it to tap into a variety of populations that have been left on the sidelines of the tech boom, including women, the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs.

Moshe Friedman of Kamatech speaks at the group’s startup demo day. (Courtesy)

Nonprofit organizations like KamaTech, Ravtech, and programs set up by the Israel Innovation Authority and Start-Up Nation Central address the Haredi community, in which people marry early and many of the men dedicate their lives to the study of the Torah, while the women are given the twin tasks of working and child-rearing.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study to preserve Jewish learning and heritage, and that integration into the secular military and workforce will undermine their lifestyle. As a result, ultra-Orthodox men often avoid getting a job and being drafted to the army, and collect welfare stipends to study full-time.

With high birthrates and high unemployment, the ultra-Orthodox community is among the poorest in Israel. But those who seek to work often find themselves without basic English and math skills, along with soft skills such as how to interview and network.

Ultra-Orthodox men (illustrative photo: Yehoshua Yosef/Flash90)

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics the ultra-Orthodox will account for 14% of the total population in Israel by 2025; by 2035, almost one in five.

Ravtech, which set up a training apprenticeship model that has been integrating Haredi men into the high-tech scene since 2013, in June opened its eighth cohort, with 35 people selected from hundreds of applicants training as software developers for 18 months. They are then guaranteed employment in the field, and expected to join the workforce in late 2021.

The KamaTech-IATI report also shows that Haredim account for some 10% of university and college students studying tech subjects, up 35% from 2014.

And while in 2013 there were hardly any Haredi-led startups, some 200 have been set up since 2015, accounting for 5% of the startups set up in the past few years, the report said.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox women working in the Malam Group IT company in the Haredi settlement of Beitar Illit. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“This report indicates that high-tech is an optimal field for the integration of the ultra-Orthodox public, a public that invests in education, study, with commitment and high dedication,” said Rivlin when the report was presented. “The integration of the ultra-Orthodox in employment is a clear all-Israeli interest. The continued flourishing of our nation depends on it.”

KamaTech’s Friedman said that especially in this time of economic crisis, there is a “huge potential” in speeding up the integration of the ultra-Orthodox into the high-tech field and in the workplace in general.

“With adequate investment and budgets, we can significantly strengthen this integration trend and the Israeli economy,” he said. He called on tech employers to open their doors to the Haredim, “a talented, highly motivated” and qualified population.

Israel sees a “real need” to strengthen partnerships between the various parts of its population, said Karin Mayer Rubinstein, the CEO of IATI, in the statement. “The main obstacle to the growth of the tech industry is a shortage of talented workers,” she said. “We believe that employment diversity and finding the right formula for the integration of the strength of all groups in Israeli society is the key to marching the Israeli economy and high-tech towards the future.”

Most Popular
read more: