Staff work at Slush, one of Europe’s biggest tech start-up conferences, in Helsinki, Finland, last year. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up more than 35% of the nation’s hi-tech workforce..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Later this month, E&Y Israel once again will sponsor its annual “Journey” event, which it touts as “Israel’s most prestigious annual business conference.”
In the crowded halls and outdoor spaces will be a mix of men and women networking and promoting their piece of the “start-up nation.” Which raises the question: as a signature annual event for companies and investors in Israel, why are so few women speaking?
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up over 35% of the nation’s high-tech workforce. Yet, a review of E&Y’s promotional website for the event reveals that there are only three women speaking out of 53 scheduled speakers, constituting less than 6% of the total speaking opportunities. As a result, many of the panels have no female representation.
Considering that last year’s Journey had seven women speaking out of 60 scheduled speakers (just over 11% of the total speakers), E&Y Israel somehow has managed to journey backward on ensuring fair and proportionate gender representation among its speakers.
A few years ago, while managing the Tel Aviv office of an international law firm, I was invited by E&Y Israel to have my firm join as a co-sponsor of the event. I declined on the basis that women were vastly underrepresented as speakers at the previous annual Journey and strongly encouraged E&Y to correct this error. Indeed, I provided E&Y Israel with a list of highly talented women in the high-tech industry, both in Israel and abroad, who would have made outstanding speakers.
While E&Y recognized its difficulty in securing female representation among its speakers, and represented that it would make greater efforts going forward, the results sadly still speak for themselves. To date, I am not aware of E&Y engaging a single woman among its keynote speakers in any of its annual Journey conferences.
Can it really be so difficult for E&Y Israel, as part of a globally recognized professional services firm, to find a single qualified woman to serve as a keynote speaker? The answer is no. If E&Y Israel wants to claim the mantle of hosting and sponsoring one of the leading annual business conferences in Israel, then E&Y has an obligation to the men and women who make up that business community to broaden its gender reach and ensure adequate female representation on its speaking panels, all of them.
Until then, absent real change, those men and women planning to make new contacts and network at E&Y’s upcoming event should question whether this is a journey worth making.The author is an Israeli entrepreneur and lawyer who has managed and advised several start-up companies.