The shortage of employees, as often reported by workplaces, compared to the thousands of job-seekers on the employment market, indicates a severe market failure, which at first is quite hard to comprehend. This failure is especially apparent in the hi-tech sector, which has about 15,000 reported available jobs and a severe shortage of working hands, while thousands of certified engineers from various populations and social backgrounds find it hard to integrate into this industry.
In Israel, we can find some comfort in knowing that such a phenomenon is quite common in the US and in some European countries. But in this context, it is hard to be consoled by the sorrows of others.
Arab, haredi (ultra-Orthodox), and women job-seekers are the main populations which find it hard to integrate into the Israeli hi-tech ecosystem. Many barriers prevent these job-seekers from finding work in this market. These barriers harm the hi-tech industry itself as well as these populations, and widen the social gaps that already exist within Israeli society and the local market. Although these cultural, political and conceptual barriers prevent a right, just and fair integration into the employment market, they are not unsolvable.
When a male, Jewish, secular, young and well-educated interviewer interviews a haredi or Arab job-seeker, the interviewer is not familiar with and does not understand various behavioral patterns that seem totally natural to the interviewee in front of him. The consequential reasons for not getting the position are quite clear and obvious. For example, the Jewish-secular interviewer might interpret the respect the job-seeker shows him as a lack of confidence, while for the interviewee showing such respect is a natural, integral part of his cultural identity.
Another explanation for this market failure is related to employers’ recruitment methods, especially the “one friend brings another” method. Most hi-tech employees are Jewish secular men, and therefore the friends they help to find work in their company are from similar backgrounds. As a result, many Arab and haredi job-seekers claim they cannot even get a job interview in these companies. Some of them get rejected right away, most probably because of prejudice or preconceptions, or because of automated recruitment processes. In some cases, robotic software selects resumes for the company according to prejudiced screening definitions.
In a survey conducted in the state of New York it was found that women and minorities were significantly absent from the world of TV productions. Only 16% of directors were women and 18% were minorities; only 29% of writers were women, and 13% were minorities. Needless to say, such low participation rates are disturbing and form a real problem. Both women and minorities are important target audiences in the world of mass media and communication, and this trend strengthens existing unjust gaps.
IT SHOULD be assumed that diversity among writers and staff would actually improve the quality of content and increase TV ratings. To improve the situation, the government of New York initiated a governmental plan that provides support and incentives to encourage employers to open their doors and assimilate women and minorities into this industry.
When I first learned about the initiative to advance women and minorities in the world of TV productions in New York, I deliberated whether such an initiative could promote this cause or would actually reinforce discrimination. As someone who works to promote employment diversity and integrate marginalized communities into the employment market – especially in the hi-tech sector, which suffers a shortage of working hands – my first thought was that financially supporting employers to encourage them to hire women and minorities would actually reinforce the discrimination. When I shared my thoughts with employers and colleagues, I discovered that many of them support such incentives and view them as an acceptable means of advancing employment diversity, or as something that can initiate a more positive outlook.
Today, I support such programs. Like with other programs, in the beginning, employers would be tempted to hire these populations in order to take advantage of coveted incentives. But as a great believer in the ability of diversity to effectively improve business’s performance, I am sure that after a while, reality would overcome old preconceptions, and diversity would become a shared value. Companies would open their doors to a diversity of communities, and prejudice would dissolve. Employers would realize the related advantages, and incentives would no longer be the sole reason for hiring marginalized populations.
The State of Israel might find consolation in the fact that this is a global issue, but it would be better if it learned from others’ solutions. Adopting models from other countries and sharing their desire to solve this failure is important for maintaining the hi-tech sector as a national growth facilitator and our status as the Start-Up Nation. This market failure can be improved if we only understand why the two worlds of employers and job-seekers do not connect while they have such complementing needs.
So how do we start? By providing government incentives to employers who promote diversity, or alternatively, by adding a condition of “employment diversity” to receiving grants from the Israel Innovation Authority. In addition, we should all endorse the insight that this is where the employment market is heading. A government that does not understand that the future of the employment market and society lies with diversity might find itself facing ever-growing economic problems.
The writer is the founder and executive director of Itworks, an NGO that works to integrate diverse populations into the hi-tech sector. Itworks is a proud partner of the US Embassy and its Middle East Partnership Initiative running the Diversity Works program