Meet the Israeli-Arab women shattering Israeli hi-tech's glass ceiling

According to a study published last month by employment researcher Dr. Gal Zohar and not-for-profit organization itworks, six out of every 10 hi-tech employees are Jewish men under 55 years old.

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January 17, 2019 12:00
4 minute read.
(From left) Alaa Halumi, itworks founder Ifat Baron-Goldberg and Sireen Ibraheem Nijeem

(From left) Alaa Halumi, itworks founder Ifat Baron-Goldberg and Sireen Ibraheem Nijeem. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Every day, employees in Israel’s hi-tech industry deal with multi-billion dollar acquisitions, life-changing innovation and award-winning technological triumphs.

But only if you’re a Jewish man under the age of 55.

“The problem is not a matter of knowledge but rather opportunity,” Sireen Ibraheem Nijeem, a fulfillment and demand specialist at smart energy-tech company SolarEdge, told The Jerusalem Post. “The Arab sector in general and Arab women in particular have the potential to succeed in every workplace and every organization – to integrate well and be as professional as everyone else.”

Nijeem, 27, from Judeida-Makr near Acre, is one of the pioneering Arab women shattering the hi-tech glass ceiling, and she expects many to follow in her footsteps.

While her family made clear their expectations that she should pursue a career in medicine, alongside all her siblings, Nijeem followed her true passion: industrial engineering.

“In all the companies where I have worked to date, I was the first Arab woman. First, at Proctor & Gamble, then at L’Oreal, and now as the first and only Arab woman at SolarEdge,” Nijeem said.

Alongside the country’s world-renowned innovation success there is also a growing recognition of the lack of diversity in its hi-tech sector, primarily relying on the employment of Jewish, non-ultra Orthodox men and leading to a shortage of skilled hi-tech workers in the market.

According to a study published last month by employment researcher Dr. Gal Zohar and not-for-profit organization itworks, six out of every 10 hi-tech employees are Jewish men under 55.

This lack of diversity becomes increasingly apparent in the case of Israel’s Arab population, which represents a mere 3.34% of the country’s hi-tech sector workforce, and only 1.5% of key engineering and programming positions.

Nijeem independently funded her studies at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Now enjoying a successful career, she says she has surprised and regained the support of both her family and her community.

“I believe that women are the heart of every sector and community. If a woman is educated, successful and finds employment that gives her a sense of satisfaction, it will lead both her community and sector to develop faster,” Nijeem said.

Today, she is developing her own start-up with three female Arab engineers and expects to see many more fellow Arab women follow her lead.

“The world is changing, and the opportunities too, including greater awareness among companies regarding the recruitment of Arab engineers. This will generate positive socioeconomic change for the Arab sector and improve the quality of life for us all.”

Similarly defying expectations, 30-year-old Alaa Halumi was born in Nazareth and was expected to marry once she finished her high school studies.


Today, she lives in Tel Aviv and works as a product owner at construction management platform developer BuilderEdge.

“When I finished high school, I didn’t want to marry, I wanted to study,” Halumi told the Post.

“Like much of my family, I initially didn’t know anything about university. But eventually I went to study at the University of Haifa so I could live at home, traveling back and forth all the time.”

Now finishing her master’s in software engineering at Shenkar College, Halumi has noticed an increase in female Arab students starting to learn similar subjects.

“When I started searching for work, I didn’t know where to look. In general, Arabs struggle to sell themselves to employers. We’re more modest,” she said.

“My message to others like me is that you can do it. Yes, being the only woman can be stressful or even scary, but you’ll succeed and feel that you’re special.”

Both Halumi and Nijeem benefited from the support and guidance offered by itworks, established by Ifat Baron-Goldberg in 2006 to promote employment diversity in the hi-tech industry. The organization focuses not only on Arab-Israelis, but also helps a range of other groups in society, including ultra-Orthodox Jews and single mothers.

“In the hi-tech industry, there are thousands of job vacancies at any given moment and, on the other hand, there are many job seekers with suitable skills who cannot find work,” Baron-Goldberg told the Post.

“There are many opportunities that suit the abilities and talents of job candidates from the Arab sector, but they are unable to realize them due to their affiliation with Arab society. For this reason, we have created a mechanism that supports candidates and employers at all stages of the admission process.”

The itworks organization assists employers to develop a “multicultural” recruitment approach, enabling interviewers to neutralize differences between candidates coming from different backgrounds, including imperfect Hebrew and different interviewee responses due to their culture.

“It is important to remember that it is in our interest as a civil society to nurture worthy candidates. In the United States, it is already possible to clearly see the positive results of diversity, and in Israel there are also the first signs of understanding – even if its application takes longer.”

Since its establishment, in excess of 5,000 individuals have participated in programs organized by itworks and its collaborations with 130 employers in the hi-tech industry.

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