Modi'in Illit firms show power of haredi women in workforce

Gov't Services Minister Eitan: We can help 10 times the number of Haredim make their lives much better.

Haredim 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haredim 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) was in Modi'in Illit this week visiting Matrix Global, the hi-tech firm tasked with streamlining and expanding government services on the Internet as part of the " initiative." What makes the organization particularly interesting is it employs nearly 500 haredi women, a social sector that traditionally does not work in such a field. We can help 10 times the number of haredim, women and men, to go in this direction and make their lives much better, and at the same time strengthen the economy, Eitan said. Haredi society is being transformed thanks to new employment opportunities for haredi women, business officials said. "The socioeconomic status of Modi'in Illit has changed because of companies like Matrix Global," said Libby Affen, the firm's chief operating officer. A Deloitte report recently indicated there are many benefits to operating in haredi communities, including low rents. The report notes that 25 percent of the haredi population will be of working age in 10 years. Also, many haredim reside in urban centers, with 60% of them living in the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv corridor and in places with lower rent and taxes. There also are government incentives for hiring haredim. CityBook Services Ltd., an outsourcing firm in Modi'in Illit that provides real estate services for the US market, commissioned the report Matrix Global has been hiring haredi women who took computer courses in school for the past five years and offers additional training. Many of those hired are fresh out of school and unmarried, with the average employee age hovering around 23. The company handles quality assurance and development services for about 60 clients in Israel and abroad. Haredim are some of the most impoverished people in Israel. Considering women often must support families while their spouses study in yeshivot, the income from a company such as Matrix Global can be invaluable for families that tend to be larger than average. "The dream was that women could balance working in challenging things that they studied and continue raising a family while working" for a long time, Affen said. Tehina Tennvald, who has a husband and four children, said she enjoys working at Matrix Global. "It's a good place to work," she said. "It's very important." Although Tennvald would like to see more places employing haredi women, their traditional role complicates the issue. "Not every person looks at this as a good thing," she said. Matrix Global and CityBook have tried to accommodate their employees' lifestyles. Matrix Global has flexible work hours, which allows employees to take breaks to go home to tend to children and perform other tasks. CityBook, which CEO Eli Kazhdan said has 20% of its staff on maternity leave at any time, closes shop at 2 p.m. Eitan said one of Israel's greatest economic concerns is low participation in the workforce, lagging behind most European countries. He said haredim and Arabs must be targeted to boost the country's labor force. "As the government, we have to create the right environment and create incentive for these populations to be involved" in the work force, he said. "And that is one of the most important steps in order to increase the GNP." Ventures such as Matrix - which added 30 employees last month - and CityBook could help. Kazhdan said haredi women are the most dedicated and efficient employees because of their upbringing. Coming from an environment of intense religious study makes them more focused, he said. Also, with haredi women at his company having as many as seven children, it shows they can handle a large workload and that there is more at stake with each paycheck. "I think it's also an ideological and religious reason," he said. "The idea of not stealing is so deeply engrained in the haredi community - not only in terms of not stealing money, but just as much in not stealing time. They come in, they clock in, they will work. And if they take a 10-minute break, believe you me, they will clock out." Matrix Global, which already has a Bet Shemesh operation and is considering another in Haifa, said Jerusalem is not out of the question for the future. Citybook opens its Jerusalem office on Wednesday, although the office will not be entirely comprised of haredi women. "I think there is nothing new about the fact that haredi women go out to work, they always did," Kazhdan said. "The real step change is that serious companies like ourselves... are setting up facilities smack in the center of harediville."