Revolution: Religious Israeli women increasingly studying computer science

For International Women’s Day, it is time for us to start thinking outside the box and to understand that a technology-based career – particularly in computers – represents a natural fit for women.

By STUART HERSHKOWITZ
March 7, 2018 21:38
3 minute read.
Revolution: Religious Israeli women increasingly studying computer science

A women reflected in a computer screen (Reuters). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Social revolutions are dramatic and transformative, yet sometimes, they can also be surprisingly straightforward and intuitive. As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8, a highly promising revolution is underway in Israel, and it makes pure common sense: religious women are increasingly studying computer science.

According to the 2017 Harvey Nash Women in Technology report, just 26% of women become interested in technology in high school or earlier, compared to 44% of men. Additionally, men (59%) are significantly more likely than women (44%) to enter the information technology field through a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) academic track in college. Sixty-nine percent of the survey’s respondents, including both men and women, said the key to getting more women to pursue careers in technology is encouraging women to study technology in high school or college.

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With technology being king in an increasingly wired and borderless world, the pursuit of technology-related careers is one of the keys to greater empowerment for women. At the same time, women will not achieve progress in the workplace if we accept stereotypes or current trends – such as their relatively low participation in technology fields – as facts of life. When it comes to employment, change starts with education, and our colleges and universities can take the crucial first steps to ignite a revolution.

In Israel, the key agent of change in the space of women and technology is the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), most prominently in computer science. One out of every five Israeli women studying computers does so at JCT, and all of those students are national religious or haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Fifty- three percent of JCT’s computer science students are women – 18% higher than any other Israeli institution of higher learning. JCT not only trains religious women in computers and other technological disciplines, but also provides a comfortable educational environment in which religious students can thrive.

But why does this matter, and what does it mean for the future of Israel?

For religious women, computers represent an important niche market for several reasons. The field fits the lifestyle of women who would prefer to work from home; offers a relatively high number of job opportunities; and matches the unique skills and aptitudes of many women, including high attention to detail and the ability to absorb a significant amount of information.

For International Women’s Day, it is time for us to start thinking outside the box and to understand that a technology-based career – particularly in computers – represents a natural fit for women. This is a revolution that is as much intuitive as it is dramatic.



Israel is merely scratching the surface right now with regard to the impact of training women in computer science. The birthrate of the haredi community means that female participation in technology fields will increasingly boost the Israeli workforce for years to come.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the haredi fertility rate is 6.9 children per woman, compared to 2.4 per non-haredi woman. The haredi community, which currently makes up 9% of Israel’s total population, is projected to comprise 16% by 2030 and about one-third by 2065. The overall Israeli population is expected to double in approximately 40 years. All of this adds up to a tremendous leap in the number of religious Israeli women working in computers, accompanied by the progressive debunking of the stereotype that the haredi community lags in its contribution to Israel’s workforce.

International Women’s Day is about celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a day to remember that even the most presumably imposing glass ceilings for women, such as their participation in technology professions, can be shattered. Israel’s unique story for International Women’s Day 2018 is the rising number of women studying computer science, and JCT is at the forefront of this powerful – yet simultaneously natural – revolution.

The author is the vice president of the Jerusalem College of Technology.

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