International Women's Day

Women underrepresented in Israeli tech ecosystem, annual study confirms

New report by Israel Innovation Authority shows low participation at all levels, reflecting ‘discouraging reality’

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

An illustrative view of the lobby of a building in the Bnei Brak Business Center, on October 23, 2017. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
An illustrative view of the lobby of a building in the Bnei Brak Business Center, on October 23, 2017. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Women are underrepresented in the Israeli tech ecosystem, accounting for a consistent 30% or so of the high-tech workforce, an annual study by the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) confirmed on Tuesday, International’s Women’s Day.

The report said women were a minority at each stage of the path toward the high-tech industry and along their career routes, from school to military to university, and in their employment or entrepreneurial ventures.

The IIA report said that women hold 23% of jobs in development and cyber roles in the Israel Defense Forces, and make up only 30.7% of students studying tech at universities.

Women also represent just 15% of those serving in the military Academic Reserves program, which allows high school graduates to defer their compulsory military service and attend university first, according to the report.

In addition, women make up 9.4% of all Israeli startup founders and CEOs, and only 16.5% of the heads of investment funds are women.

“The higher… the ladder of seniority, the lower the ratio of women startup founders, or partners in venture capital fund,” the IIA said, “portraying a discouraging reality.”

Illustrative: A woman walking toward a building at the Bnei Brak Business Center, on October 23, 2017. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The highest figure is in high school where girls account for 49.4% of pupils learning for five units of mathematics, of which 35% later join computer science programs.

Furthermore, 30% of female students who are eligible for a matriculation certificate in science-oriented subjects (primarily math and sciences) go on to study for an academic degree in a STEM course, the IIA noted.

On a brighter note, the report cited Central Bureau of Statistics figures that showed that the number of women studying high-tech related subjects at the undergraduate level at universities and academic colleges increased by 64% over the past decade, from 8,686 female students in 2010/11 to 14,211 in 2019/20.

In the industry, the rate of women employed in tech has remained unchanged, at about 30%, for the past 30 years, the report noted.

In 2021, the proportion of women in the tech industry, including in core technological positions and other roles such as marketing, sales, and human resources, was 33.4%. This figure marked a decrease of 0.6% from the 2020 study.

About 22% of high-tech management positions are filled by women, according to the report.

Technion students taking a break on the grass on a sunny winter day when entrepreneurs flocked to the Haifa campus to talk to students, on December 19, 2019. (Shoshanna Solomon/The Times of Israel)

Dror Bin, CEO of the IIA, said the Israeli high-tech sector “spearheads Israeli innovation and breaks new records year on year. However, with regard to gender equality, Israeli high-tech still lags behind. Only around a third of Israeli high-tech employees are women, and this figure is not increasing over time. At every step on the way leading to the high-tech industry, and within it, women are a minority.”

“In recent years there are encouraging signs of growth in the rate of female students for high-tech related subjects, an increase in the rate of females matriculating in computer science, and other measures, however, the progress is very slow,” added Bin.

To create change, “there needs to be a concerted, joint effort by the high-tech industry and all relevant government stakeholders,” he said. “This is the shared responsibility of all parties in the ecosystem.”

Bin said a greater participation share of women in the tech sphere “is key to our ability to address the problem of human capital shortages in the industry.”

Israel faces an annual shortage of about 13,000 skilled workers (according to 2020 data), mainly engineers and programmers. The IIA had developed a number of programs aimed at tapping into the tech talents of underrepresented populations including women, members of the Arab Israeli community and the ultra-Orthodox community, who have been left largely sidelined.

Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israel’s Minister for Science, Technology and Space said in a statement accompanying the IIA report that clear goals were set by the ministry to increase the number of women in high-tech within two years, as well as to increase the number of women in the IIA’s training programs to 45%.

The ministry, she said, also doubled the programs aimed at promoting future female scientists, and programs for teenage girls promoting excellence in the fields of engineering and exact sciences.

The ministry is also working with the Ministry of Education on a program for high-tech education, starting from kindergarten age, that will hopefully launch at the start of the next school year.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen in Tel Aviv. on April 27, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Research shows a decrease in interest in the sciences among female students in elementary schools. Understanding the challenges we face — which this report does — will enable us to formulate actions that will bring about real, positive change in this sector. I believe all parts of government should work together on this highly important issue,” said Farkash-Hacohen.

According to the report, steps to increase the participation rate of women in the tech workforce should include “proactive activities” to increase the number of women serving in core technology roles in the military and “supportive regulation in the labor market to facilitate the integration of women, especially mothers, in the industry.”

The report did not go further into detail.

More women in bigger companies

A report published by the Power in Diversity Initiative (PID) in January found that although women are underrepresented through the tech industry, there is a more substantial presence of women in large companies (36%) than in smaller companies (30.8%). This finding, according to the organization, “supports the argument that it may be more challenging to perform diversification processes in smaller companies.”

The list of reasons includes that big companies have a larger operating system and more resources for recruiting. Large companies also have a greater need for human resources, legal, finance, and support roles that are typically filled by women, according to the report.

Illustrative: Haredi young women who are part of the Adva program that aims to train them with skills for the high-tech sector. (Courtesy)

The tech industries with the lowest percentage of women in the field were cybersecurity, automotive, electronics, and telecommunication with 27%, 24%, 20.8%, and 18% respectively.

In management roles, just 23.4% of positions are filled by women, the findings showed. The study surveyed 424 startups (private and venture-backed companies) that operate in the ecosystem and 70 Venture Capital (VC) funds.

In the VC space, just 14.8% of the partners are women and 9% are investing partners. These figures correlate “with the percentage of companies that are founded by women in the tech industry which is 12% — a significant increase as of the last couple of years. Yet, this is far from being enough.”

PID is funded by Alan Feld — founding partner at Vintage Investment Partners; Kobi Sambursky, funding partner at Glilot Capital Partners; and Sivan Shamri Dahan, managing partner and co-founder at Qumra Capital, who also serve together as chairpersons of the initiative.

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