Where are all the women in Israeli start-ups? New diversity report sheds light

The country must pick up the pace in order to reach equality and, by extension, a workplace culture which promotes diverse thought and innovation.

 Noga Levi, Data Science Lead at cybersecurity company EverC. (photo credit: Courtesy of EverC.)
Noga Levi, Data Science Lead at cybersecurity company EverC.
(photo credit: Courtesy of EverC.)

Women make up only about 33% of the start-up workforce in Israel, according to a new report from Power in Diversity that details the involvement of women in the start-up ecosystem in 2021. The report asserts that at a glance, Israel is on the right track, but in order to reach equality and, by extension, a workplace culture that promotes diverse thought and innovation, the country must pick up the pace.

“Start-ups have made some progress with respect to the increase of female representation,” writes Power in Diversity. “There are companies working to increase the number of women in leadership positions and improvements can be seen through the recruitment of more women to technological positions, but the number of women in these roles is still relatively low.”

In general, that number is around one third. On average, small-scale start-ups have 30.8% female representation at all levels, while mid- to large-scale businesses have 33% and 36% representation, respectively. The fields that are lagging behind most significantly are cybersecurity, automotive, electronics, and telecommunications.

“Being a woman in a male-dominated environment means sometimes acting more confident than you really are, making a point of putting your view on the agenda, and insisting on being heard. It means reminding myself that it is okay to take risks and fail,” said Noga Levi, data science lead at cybersecurity company EverC. “Tech companies and companies in general should be aware of unconscious biases in job interviews and promotions, and allow work-life flexibility to everyone; a shift which has already been noticed in many companies.”

A commonly heard excuse for the lack of female representation in the field is that women are focused on family rather than their careers. Head of product at Cyberint Sarit Kozokin believes there’s room for both ideas to coexist.

 The percentage of Israeli women in tech management positions. (credit: Power in Diversity) The percentage of Israeli women in tech management positions. (credit: Power in Diversity)

“My belief is that most talented women are capable of running a happy family life and running a fruitful career, one alongside the other. More so today, when many companies enable having a good work-life balance. Women, and not just women, should leverage those opportunities.”

In terms of specifically management positions, the average is significantly lower. Only 23.3% of management positions in start-ups are held by women.

“In terms of female CEOs, the number is really marginal,” said Incredibuild CEO Tami Mazel Shahar in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “If I look at the portfolio for all of the great VC funds that have great companies, at the end of the day women CEOs are a very small number.”

Speaking of venture capital, only 14.8% of Israeli VC partners are women. That number has grown since 2020, but only by 3%. That meager growth pales in comparison to the exponential growth seen in the Israeli hi-tech sector as a whole: In 2021, the hi-tech industry grew by 136% in funds raised.

Among the industries researched in the report, one stood out further than the rest in terms of female representation: health-tech. According to the report, “The health-tech industry has the highest percentage of women in several areas. More than half of the health-tech companies surveyed employ 45% or more women.”

HAGAR LISSER, director of HR at medical robotics company Human Xtensions, offered an explanation as to why women may be more drawn to the Health-Tech industry.

“The medical field is very complex and requires high integration and multidisciplinary management. Women have an advantage in this field, as they are skilled in communication and multi-participant management situations. Furthermore, they understand interpersonal dynamics, are detail-oriented while seeing the bigger picture, address here and now challenges, and at the same time foresee future risks.”

A similar sentiment was given by Mira Altmark-Sofer, VP of marketing at pulsenmore, who suggested that health-tech offers an appeal that overcomes the current obstacles preventing women from joining the start-up workforce.

“I believe that one of the things that attracts women to this field, despite its vast challenges and complexity, is the ability to make a real difference in the world and essentially to positively impact human lives.”

On a personal level, Altmark-Sofer feels satisfaction in being a part of a greater cause.

“I enjoy working on problems that are worth solving. I’m surrounded by good people who challenge themselves every day for the benefit of patients and caregivers, and who are working with the scientific and clinical community to improve outcomes.”

pulsenmore produces a hand-held ultrasound machine that, quite literally, puts the power of knowledge into women’s hands – and that’s something worth working for.

“Our hand-held ultrasound allows women to reassure themselves of the well-being of their unborn baby from the comfort of their home in partnership with their healthcare provider – and this is just our first product with many more to follow for remote healthcare, so you can imagine how fulfilling that mission is.”

In regards to the hi-tech industry specifically, one of the oft-discussed solutions for is an increase in education from a young age about the opportunities that exist for girls in tech.

“I think that [the more] we expose our kids to different role models and expand their horizons, the better,” said Ayala Rudoy, VP and GM of logistics and transportation at Tomorrow.io. “We should also require all kids to have access to technological education from a young age. When this is optional, girls are less likely to choose it.”

She added, “Don’t be afraid to be the role model for your daughters. Sometimes, we’re still restricted by the conventions we grew up with, and it fills us with guilt about having a successful career. At the end of day, I now realize that I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without having my mom as a role model, seeing how happy and fulfilled it made her to have her own successful career.”

“Our world is technological, and that won’t change,” noted Karin Ophir Zimet, VP of people and ops at Torq. “As kids who were born to this world, I believe that if you, as a parent, talk to them about it, tell them what you are doing at work, show them what your team is doing and explain it, their interest will increase. And then they’ll turn back to TikTok.”