Why Israel, or any country, needs scholarship funds for women

Israeli women make less than their male colleagues – about 66% for the average worker and 73% for managers.

November 19, 2017 21:26
3 minute read.
Ultra-Orthodox women Israel

Ultra-Orthodox women work at Matrix Global, a hi-tech company, in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit April 3, 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The University of Haifa, Israel’s youngest university, has the reputation of being its most progressive. More than that of any other Israeli university, its student population most accurately reflects that of Israel; students from a wide range of backgrounds – secular and religious Jews, Muslims, Druse and Christians – study, debate, research, argue and grow together in an environment known for academic excellence and tolerance.

Of our nearly 18,000 students, women outnumber men at every degree level – 62% of students at the BA level are women, 69% at the MA level and 64% at PhD level. Given that the population of university- age males in Israel slightly outnumbers females, these statistics – which are repeated at most other universities in Israel – are compelling.

So why, when the university is going through a major expansion plan that will include establishing new faculties, developing new physical locations and adding much needed funds to our endowment, are we prioritizing a relatively small scholarship fund for women?

Despite the gender distribution at the university level, women are still underrepresented in the upper echelons in nearly every field in Israel. While there are significant numbers of women obtaining undergraduate and advanced degrees, the percentage of female professors, let alone in the top levels of administration, is low. Israel’s booming technology sector is male dominated – in 2016, only one out of every five workers was female and women high-tech entrepreneurs received about half the funding of their male counterparts.

Israeli women make less than their male colleagues – about 66% for the average worker and 73% for managers. Nearly 65% of Israeli state workers are women but only a third will reach senior-level management. While Israel was one of the first Western countries to elect a woman as its leader, the percentage of Israeli MKs that are female is far less than the OECD average of 30%.

The statistics continue, and to be fair, the situation is not much better in the United States. In fact, recently it seems as if it’s worse. In just the past month, our media has been filled with stories of investigations and lawsuits in the technology, venture capital and entertainment industries that have revealed systemic bias, harassment and worse, all of which create serious obstacles to equality and achievement for all workers, not just women.

And sadly, nearly every woman I know, myself included, who has worked anywhere – a restaurant, a movie theater, a hospital, a nonprofit organization, an investment bank, a university, a law firm –has a story of not just harassment and bias, but a reason why she just “let it go.” Maybe a colleague told her to ignore it, maybe she felt her career was in danger, maybe she thought no one would take her seriously or she thought she could not change the situation.

To achieve the equality that is not only a societal imperative but also an economic advantage, we must acknowledge the past while pushing forward. Education is the one of the best ways to have long-lasting impact. Scholarships do more than remove financial obstacles, provide access to mentors and create pathways to success. They highlight our priorities, identify what is most critical and prove that we are willing to invest in the future. Talk is important, but, as they say – it is cheap. It is time for more action. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

The author is CEO of the American Society of University of Haifa, which recently established a scholarship fund for women, funded by women. The opinions expressed in this piece are her own.

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