ISRAEL 
HIGH-TECH & INVESTMENT REPORT

from the January 2014 issue


Women in high-tech

At 26, the dark and stunning Russian-Israeli entrepreneur has locked down a doctorate in computer science from Technion, built an award-winning data-mining system for Microsoft Research and started her own company, a cloud-based application that helps other companies predict customer behavior. In August, the MIT Technology Review took notice, recognizing Radinsky as the youngest of 10 women in its annual crop of "35 Innovators Under 35."

"Here in Israel, no one really talks about" the absence of women in high tech, said Ranit Fink, vice president of business development for hot Israeli startup Cellrox — another rare female success story in the startup nation. "It's just not on the agenda."

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up about 35 percent of the nation's high-tech workforce, a statistic that hasn't budged for the last decade. (It also doesn't illustrate how many of these women are filling low-level and nontechnical positions within the high-tech sector.) And although Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor could not provide more specific data on the male-to-female ratio within the nation's high-tech startups  various company heads and investors in Israel  agreed that they very rarely see a female face within the upper ranks of the Israeli tech world. 

A review of the management teams for "20 Israeli startups to look out for" — shows that a mere 8 percent of team members are female. A representative for the Israeli venture capital firm The Trendlines Group said that of its 60 current portfolio companies, only about three are run by women. And over the last five years as a senior associate at Israeli venture capital firm JVP, Evelyn Rubin, now a vice president at crowd-funding venture OurCrowd, said that she "could probably count on one hand" the total number of women who have passed through the JVP offices. 

"I remember this crazy sense of having seen almost zero female entrepreneurs," Rubin said. "Of course you're not going to see 50/50, but you would expect to see at least 15 percent."

At OurCrowd, too, Rubin guessed that in the last six months, the deal flow team has encountered only about seven female entrepreneurs, out of the 80 to 100 startups it sees per month. (OurCrowd, though it boasts three women on its management team, has yet to fund a female-run startup.)

Some encouraging steps for women in Israeli high tech have made the news in recent months. Thousands of female haredi Jews, for example, are being employed as coders and software testers across Israel, and are — as touted in a Haaretz headline — "closing the high-tech gender gap in Israel."

"The haredi education system is geared toward encouraging women to pursue lucrative careers," said Rubin, who works with women in the ultra-Orthodox community. (However, she added that "it's a bit of a different model. These are mostly software development businesses, not your typical high-risk companies like Waze," the navigation app company recently purchased by Google.

In addition, more life-science-oriented branches of the tech industry in Israel, such as biotechnology and medical technology, are actually dominated by women: According to the online study, a full 65 percent of Israel's biotech workers are female. 

"When I first took a position in med-tech, women felt more comfortable to come and to try, because it was dominated by females," said Nitza Kardish, who now runs Israeli startup incubator Mofet Venture Accelerator. "It created this ecosystem where we were comfortable."

But Israel's most prized economy — its buzzing collection of 1,000 or more trendy tech companies, all built from scratch — is overwhelmingly male.  Experts have presented a few different theories as to why women like Radinksy and Fink are so rare. 

Rubin of OurCrowd said that, in her experience, "It's not a question of the actual time commitment, just an element of an appetite for risk. An ability to say, ‘I want to take $10 million to fund this business' " — not knowing if it will necessarily succeed.

Another theory is that from a young age, girls don't see computer science and technology as subjects in which they are most likely to succeed — partly because of the low visibility of female role models in the field.

For men, Rubin said, "They see that a guy named Gil who lives around the corner was able to do it, so why can't they do it? There are women who have built successful companies, but they're not at the forefront."

Radinksy, the CTO of SalesPredict, said she has observed other women shy away from the field because they are worried that they aren't "technical" enough or as obsessed with gadgets as their male peers. She credited her own high-tech confidence with her upbringing in a Rusian family that held more communist values of gender equality, wrote simple computer programs with her as a kid and valued computer science above other subjects. Radinksy said she never saw herself as less cut out for the field than any man. 

"Until I went to the army, I never knew I was a minority in anything," she said.

According to statistics provided to the Journal by the IDF, as of last year, only 16.8 percent of soldiers serving in technological positions in the IDF were women. And that's a huge step up from a decade before, when the IDF reported that "the percentage of woman serving in these positions had reached 7 percent at most."

So what does high tech stand to gain from a larger pool of female leaders?

A Dow Jones report in 2012 surveying 20,000 startups across the United States, showed that "companies have a greater chance of either going public, operating profitably or being sold for more money than they've raised when they have females acting as founders, board members, C-level officers, vice presidents and/or directors."

Mitchell cited the study, saying that in order to move forward, both men and women in high tech "need to acknowledge this data and create solutions themselves by changing the networks" of entrepreneurs and investors. 

Orna Berry, famed Israeli venture capitalist and one of the original female entrepreneurs of startup nation, likewise warned that in order to remain competitive in the global market, the Israeli high-tech economy needs to see greater participation from a workforce made up of varying genders, age groups and backgrounds.

The scale-out element," she said. "This is not just a matter of social justice." Ever wondered where the most successful tech CEOs get their degrees? Bloomberg Rankings has the answer.

After analyzing the alma maters of 250 CEOs of U.S. tech companies with a market value of more than $1 billion, Bloomberg found the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology tied for seventh with MIT, Rice University and the University of Texas, Austin.



Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report January 2014

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