New Corona-Changed Workplace May Increase Diversity in Israeli High-Tech Sector
With high-tech industry abandoning offices for the near future, location is no longer a work barrier
Last week, Intel Israel announced a $200 million investment over the next 10 years in diversity initiative programs.
This falls on the backdrop of many people and businesses either going out of business or losing jobs due to coronavirus, with minorities being particularly affected. While COVID-19 has impacted the high-tech industry, the sector in Israel also faces a general understaffing problem.
Most of the high-tech companies are having their employees work from home as a result of the pandemic, following the lead of the sector’s heavyweights like Facebook and Twitter announcing that they do not plan on opening their physical offices until at least early 2021, which would be the ideal situation.
Some experts are predicting that fundamental changes in how people work, such as companies allowing employees to work from home, will last long past a COVID-19 cure or vaccine is found. This modification could make careers in high-tech much more accessible to a wider range of the Israeli population, particularly minorities.
“The whole nature of working for a tech company … because of the pandemic has been reimagined … huge teams spread across the world are working remotely. When you apply this to Israel, the tremendous geographic barriers, which limited work options for many minority groups, have all but disappeared,” Wendy Singer, executive director at Start-Up Nation Central, an independent nonprofit organization with a mission of strengthening the Israeli high-tech industry, told The Media Line. “It opens up a world of possibility.”
“We would want to bring Israeli Arabs from east Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to work for a tech company but the distance rendered this impossible. Over the last three months, that obstacle has gone,” she continued. “…Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews from all over the country could work for companies located in Tel Aviv.”
Singer also contends that remote working could also expand the recruitment to different minority employees.
“I think the Druze community is going to be the new target demographic as a result of corona, now that physical location is no longer a factor. That is going to be a community that we certainly will be looking at,” Singer said.
Diversity is crucial to Israel’s tech sector, which has struggled to fill available positions.
“The tech ecosystem has had a sobering wake-up call in the last three years or so from leaders within the industry and government, who now understood that there was a very harsh human talent crunch going on in Israel,” Singer said.
Thus, minority populations joining the high-tech sector are crucial to the success of Israel’s storied industry, in a situation that benefits both parties.
“It’s a win-win situation from the get-go because there is an acute shortage of tech talent and there are these communities that are terribly underrepresented in the tech sector, and not for lack of talent,” Singer said.
Dr. Galit Desheh, director of Power in Diversity, an initiative that provides tech companies the tools and practices to become more inclusive and diverse while showing them the benefits in doing so, argues that diversity helps companies beyond filling needed positions.
“When these companies manage a more diverse workforce properly, they can fulfill problems faster, invent more and create more products,” she told The Media Line.
Minority groups, in return also get high-salaried positions.
However, for a variety of reasons, it is still difficult for these smaller demographics to break into the field and recruiting for these populations is still laggard.
To ease entry into the industry, there are many different initiatives, like Intel Israel’s, to boost minority participation.
The whole nature of working for a tech company … because of the pandemic has been reimagined … huge teams spread across the world are working remotely. When you apply this to Israel, the tremendous geographic barriers, which limited work options for many minority groups, have all but disappeared
Start-Up Nation Central has a multipronged approach involving tech boot camps, 21st-century training to improve “soft skills” like interviewing and making companies more aware of minority recruits.
When it comes to improving technical and soft skills, the organization runs boot camps through its sister-organization Start-Up Velocity for ultra-Orthodox women and Israeli Arabs, two groups that make up less than 2% of the entire tech industry.
Start-Up Nation, along with different partners, also work with seminaries, the landing point for many haredi women after completing high school, to provide them with a more rigorous computer science education to help them land high-paying jobs. Haredi women are recruited based on societal reasons, as they are often the breadwinners for the family.
Singer says that after these programs, attendees often see their salaries increase three times as much as it was before, and the positions range from the junior programmers to the more senior core development positions.
Within Israeli high-tech, Singer argues that with corona-induced layoffs, minorities are not impacted more than other demographics.
“There are not enough embedded in companies across the country to be disproportionately affected,” she said.
However, Power in Diversity’s Desheh disagrees.
“The effect of the coronavirus is that when you do not recruit people, the first one to go home is the minority population,” she said.
To improve diversity within the industry, Desheh argues that companies need to prioritize inclusion.
“We have some things to learn about how to put inclusion before diversity,” she said. “You start by checking yourself and understanding the needs of your people and where you are not inclusive, where you don’t give voice to everyone, where you are not fair enough and then diverse populations will come.”