March 30, 2023

Women need to be heard in the 'man's world' of tech - opinion

By Barbara Sofer

I’m still musing over last month’s 2023 OurCrowd Global Investor Summit.
First, the abundant good news.

The summit is back in full force after the years of the pandemic. On February 15, it filled the Jerusalem International Convention Center to capacity with 9,000 ticket holders.

Participants came from 80 countries. Newcomers among them flew in from Morocco, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Just saying that is a thrill.

There were large delegations from Singapore and Mexico.

President Isaac Herzog came to speak, even though he was in the middle of negotiating among parties regarding the judicial court contentions. Here’s a memorable statement of his worth posting: “The fact is, the future will be determined not by the resources of the ground but by the resources of our minds. But there is another piece. And that is our willingness to share our knowledge resources with each other, to collaborate, for the common good. While natural resources are limited and exhaustible – shrinking as they are used – the meeting of minds is a gift that keeps us all going. It is truly the most fertile, and worthwhile, of human endeavors.”

  • An Israeli company called D-ID demonstrated how it could make talking avatars with a click. It already has 100 million subscribers.
  • The world seeks Israeli minds. Sitting near me in the auditorium was an entrepreneur from Los Angeles whose company produces robots that look like humans, with arms and legs. He’s proposing these to help alleviate the shortage of medical workers, whereby doctors and nurses might have a robot that can understand instructions. He’s flown 16,000 km. in search of Israeli engineers to advance the project, as well as OurCrowd investors.

The theme of the summit was “Start-ups: Saving the Planet.” One Israeli company after another showed with passion how it would help fix the globe. Blue-Green Water Technologies is decimating harmful algae in lakes and oceans to stop the proliferation of cyanotoxins.
NT-Taom, headed by R.-Adm. Oded Gour-Lavie, aims at conquering the previously unsolvable puzzle of harnessing compact fusion for energy. Edgybees of drone fame has moved up in the atmosphere to make Earth images that come from satellites.

A representative of Honda Xcelerator said the company aims to make carbon-neutral vehicles, no easy pledge for the largest engine manufacturer in the world. They’re seeking zero-fatality vehicles, and as he said, they’re seeking the minds to do it – particularly in Israel. Wouldn’t that be something to come from Israel! The summit makes me light-headed with pride about Israeli accomplishments.

Tech is still a man’s world

I COULD go on, but I want to address the less-than-good news. Despite the recognition that women need to take a larger role in the hi-tech industry, which doesn’t require superior muscle mass, tech is still a man’s world. Yes, there were women at the summit but still a noticeable minority. No lines in the women’s bathrooms.

According to the Israel Innovation Authority, a government agency, women today make up 22.6% of Israeli tech executives and 9.4% of all chief executive officers who founded start-ups in 2022.

I discussed this with a young woman director of human resources from a fast-rising tech company in Tel Aviv. She said, “It’s an environment designed by men, for men but not necessarily intentionally. Often in a hiring process, male managers subconsciously look to duplicate themselves and hire candidates who display behaviors similar to theirs.

“In addition, they find it easier to interpret behaviors that are typical to theirs. For example, female candidates have a tendency to act ‘extra’ politely during interviews, which could be interpreted as a lack of assertiveness, an attribute that is highly regarded in senior positions and that does not, in practice, contradict politeness. A female-dominant environment might regard collaboration and communication skills to a higher degree.”

To quote former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: “When we leverage the power of diversity, companies and teams perform better. They are more innovative and bring in more revenue and profits. What amazing inventions, apps, or solutions to the world’s problems are we missing simply because we’re not tapping women?”

Role models count. What surprised and disappointed me most at the otherwise inspiring summit was a panel called “The Second Century,” providing “insights into the near and distant future of the Jewish state.” It was four men and zero women. Here was a group of non-scientists/non-technology people who were asked to predict our future.

One even spoke fondly of Israel’s “founding fathers.”

Someone did quote Golda Meir, our founding mother who died in 1978.

There was, of course, crowing over Israel’s high birthrate – way ahead of nearly all members of the OECD, a sign of a healthy, optimistic nation.

Let’s talk about that. Ask any sociologist or economist what happens when women become better educated, and they’ll tell you that the more schooling we women get, the fewer children we have. You might expect that in developing economies, but, oddly, it’s true also for wealthy, educated techy countries. As eminent demographer Jennifer Scobio noted in The New York Times recently, the super-low fertility in wealthier countries is because “women are starting to have kids later, are having fewer kids overall, and don’t want many to begin with.”
Not Israeli women. We’re becoming more educated, outnumbering men in colleges and universities, and we still want more children and have – even if we need IVF – more children than our educated sisters abroad. Yes, this is because of our family-oriented, pro-natalist society that cherishes child-rearing. But anyone who has had even one child knows that bringing up children is a labor-intensive job. We’re willing to get up at night to breastfeed infants and coffee our way to graduate school and management positions.

How annoying for Israeli women and embarrassing before the many foreigners to have this no-women panel represent Israel, even if the speakers were intelligent. (They were.)
When someone stood up at the end of the panel to protest the exclusion of women, another woman shouted out her concurrence. A male university student from abroad ran over to thank her.

I know because the protester was me. Sorry if it was unladylike.