Israel’s technology industry struggles to cultivate diversity, said Ifat Baron, founder and executive of ItWorks, an Israeli non-profit that promotes diversity in the technology industry, at the Start-Up Nation Tech Fair on Oct. 16.
The tech fair, which was hosted by the Georgetown Israel Alliance, brought to campus Israeli companies including Annoto, an educational video annotating company; Easyway, an artificial intelligence traveling companion; Innovation: Africa, a non-profit which provides water and electricity to countries in Africa; Materials Zone, a database for scientific research; and VR Wiz, a virtual reality production studio.
Israeli Arabs are underrepresented in Israel’s technology industry, reflecting a widespread inequality between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, according to Baron. About 50 percent of Israel’s exports are from the high-tech industry.
“Less than 2 percent of engineers in the high-tech industry are Arabs and 66 percent of Arab children will live in poverty, [compared to] 20 percent of Jewish children,” Baron said.
Transportation to and from the center of Israel, the epicenter of the country’s technology industry, presents an obstacle to increasing the numbers of Israeli Arabs working for Israeli tech companies, according to Baron.
“Most of the companies are located in the center [of Israel], and most Arab villages will be in the north,” Baron said.
The Israeli technology sector has faced diversity shortcomings in other areas, specifically for women and Orthodox Jews, according to Baron. Israeli women face sexism in science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields, while Orthodox Jews struggle to integrate into the technology industry because they require religious accommodations, Baron said.
“If you are [a] man, living in the center, Jewish and white, your chances of finding a job — very, very high,” Baron said. “If you are a woman, if you are Arab, if you are ultra-Orthodox, your chances are slim to none.”
ItWorks strives to assist minorities in Israel with professional development and help technology companies develop strategies for increasing diversity, according to Baron.
“We are offering all the tools they need, networking, soft skills seminar, English seminar, interview skills seminar and vocational training,” Baron said. “We also help the companies understand that there are different codes of conduct for women, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.”
The Start-Up Nation Tech Fair offered students an opportunity to meet representatives of Israeli technology companies, GIA president Ben Goodman (COL ’20) said. (Full disclosure: Goodman is a deputy sports editor for The Hoya.)
“Attendees certainly got to network and advance their own prospects at the tech fair, but hopefully they also took away the amazing things these startups do — or have the potential to do — for the world around them,” Goodman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “These are not just companies looking to make a buck; they are missions to care for the world being put into action.”
Nearly 300 students registered for the Start-Up National Tech Fair, according to Maya Rabinowitz (COL ’21), the Speaker and Events Chair of GIA. GIA intended to use the tech fair to showcase the business and technology industry in Israel, according to Rabinowitz.
“The reason we wanted to put on the event was to show a side of Israel outside of politics,” Rabinowitz said. “Many who are unfamiliar with the startup hub in Israel associate the country with conflict in the Middle East. I hope that everyone who attended learned about all of the innovation and technology coming out of Israel and might even want to work in Israel one day.”
David Suter, chief marketing officer of Materials Zone, an online research database that provides its subscribers with access to research data and one of the companies at the fair, said Tel Aviv offers his company a robust community of businesses that has helped it expand its platform in the city.
“Tel Aviv is a great place to test things out,” Suter said, “because even though it’s small, everyone is there — Google, Facebook, everyone is nearby.”