Confidence in me

For Rana Daud, the right skills and education were not enough to get her into the hi-tech sector.

Rana Daud 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rana Daud 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nahariya-born Rana Daud was skeptical that she could get a job in the hitech world. Sure, she had defied statistics for Arabs and women, taking to programming as a hobby at a young age. Sure, she had exhibited skill and talent and excelled in her studies. Sure, she was earning a degree at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel’s world-renowned technological university. But something stood in her way.
“I’m a Muslim and wear Muslim garb, and in this country it’s hard to be accepted that way, because they judge you from your shape and what you wear,” she says.
Israel’s Arab women have the lowest workforce participation of any group in the country, at just 29 percent. That’s even lower than haredi men, who participate at a rate of just over 40%.
The number is closer to 70% among the non-haredi Jewish population.
Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug, the government’s top economic adviser, called the integration of Arabs into the labor market and economy “a very important, even essential, component of the Israeli economy’s ability to continue to grow, and to support a higher standard of living for all Israelis.” Given demographic trends, Israel will eventually lose 1.3% annual economic growth because of its economically unintegrated populations. Of the myriad obstacles that keep many Arab women out of the workforce, Daud was fortunate enough to overcome several of them from the getgo.
For starters, she faced fewer cultural barriers and family pressures. Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a language teacher, set an example that encouraged her. Despite the often subpar education available to the Arab community, her school opened up special track for computer programming, exposing the young Daud and 15 other students in her class to the elusive world of hi-tech for the first time.
“I chose it because it was a challenge and I like challenges,” she says. “I had fantastic teacher, and he always helped us move forward in the field.”
Next came higher education. Though Arabs comprise around 20% of the Israeli population, they represent only 12% of college graduates.
Daud was accepted to a program called NAM (in Hebrew, an acronym for “outstanding Arab youth”), founded by industrialist Eitan Wertheimer. The program gives its students a year of training and then offers full scholarships to the Technion.
Thus, armed with family support, higher education, and a passion for hitech, Daud decided it was time to make her way into the labor force. But despite all her relative advantages, a job seemed a world away.
DISCRIMINATION IS unquestionably a factor in Arab entry to the hi-tech industry, though far from the only one.
“Of course there is discrimination, we won’t pretend there’s not,” Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said at the Prime Minister’s Conference on Arab integration in October.
At the same conference, Flug added, “We know that the Arab public has difficulty integrating into certain industries, even if the appropriate training is provided. One such example is the hi-tech industry where, for various reasons, few Arabs successfully integrate.”
Cultural differences and language barriers don’t help either.
THAT’S WHERE Tsofen comes in.
Founded in 2008 by Jewish and Arab hi-tech leaders Smadar Nehab and Sami Saadi, Tsofen is an NGO to integrate Arab society in Israel and the hi-tech industry.
The organization realized there was a need, even among the well-educated, linguistically gifted, ambitious Arabs eager to participate in the advanced economy.
The organization works toward opening tech centers in Arab communities, and also training and placing Arab academics in hi-tech companies all over Israel.
“The fact that Israelis are not integrated is a market failure, a sheer market failure,” says Paz Hirschmann, Tsofen’s director of development. Israeli hi-tech has a shortage of 4,000 engineers, he says, yet 1,500 trained, educated Arab engineers remain unemployed in the field. Some 80% of Arabs with exact sciences degrees are forced to find employment in unrelated fields.
In the hi-tech industry in particular, where programming skills should speak for themselves, that seems like a huge failure. “In the hi-tech industry, a geek is a geek,” he says.
That has a serious impact on the Arab economy. Every hi-tech job in Israel creates two to three jobs around it, not to mention its yields of higher incomes and taxes, both locally and nationally.
“The Israeli economy as a whole suffers from it, the Arab community suffers from it, and it’s an obstacle to creating a shared society in Israel,” he says.
Tsofen helped Daud bridge the gap between her education and the workforce, teaching her how to build a resumé, conduct job interviews and behave in a professional work environment.
“I don’t have a lot of experience in interviews, but I have the knowledge,” she says. “The border with modesty was not clear to me, and I didn’t know how to market myself properly, so I learned.”
For the past three months, Daud has worked as a software engineer at Galil Software, a hi-tech company that has placed a special focus on hiring Arab workers.
“What we see in general is that Arab engineers are as productive as the ones in the Center,” says Galil CEO Dror Gonen.
The workers there speak Hebrew with their hi-tech customers, write in English, and occasionally chat with each other in Arabic.
A significant portion of its workers have moved to other companies in the hi-tech world, including Google, Cisco, HP and Mellanox. The latter once hired an entire team from Galil.
“Galil proves to the nation that the Arabs have something to contribute,” Daud says. “I would also be happy if Galil had more Jews!” That vision may be becoming more of a reality. This year, Amdocs opened a 200-person branch in Nazareth, and plans to employ 850 more engineers there in the coming decade. The proportion of Arabs to Jews there is roughly 70 ton 30. “This is Tsofen’s dream in one vision: bringing Jews to work with Arabs in Arab cities,” says Hirschmann.
Daud’s story highlights both the promise and challenge Arabs – and Arab women in particular – face, in integrating into the Israeli workforce. Even with a supportive family and a solid high-school education, she had to rely on the assistance of focused programs such as NAM to overcome the obstacles of getting to a higher education at the Technion, and of Tsofen to get her skills into the market.
Yet the existence of these programs and Daud’s success coming through them also proves that the obstacles may be overcome. As there is greater exposure and integration, as cultural barriers break down, and as attitudes change, they may not even be necessary.
Daud’s own attitude is a shining example.
Asked whether she faces pressure in her community to marry, the 24-yearold responds: “There’s a certain path that the community expects; after your studies you get married, and so on. But I don’t see it that way.“ She pauses for a moment.
“I’m thinking about my career. That’s what’s important to me right now.”