Israeli Tech Sector Workers Mostly Jewish Men From Affluent Backgrounds, Study Finds

Arab Israelis and women majorly underrepresented in the Start-Up Nation

An employee works at a laptop computer at the Jerusalem Venture Partners JVP Media Labs, situated in the JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday, Oct. 21 , 2015.
An employee works at a laptop computer at the Jerusalem Venture Partners JVP Media Labs, situated in the JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday, Oct. 21 , 2015. Rina Castelnuovo/Bloomberg

A hi-tech career in Israel generally offers a path to a relatively high salary and work in a competitive, international environment, but in practice such jobs are beyond reach of most people in the country, a government study found. 

These workers in Israel are predominately Jewish men who grew up in families that are well educated and affluent, the study found. Meanwhile, the number of Israeli Arabs in high-tech is negligible and the relatively few women found in the field become scarce after the age of 40.

The Finance Ministry and the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry commissioned the study as part of efforts to determine the path people need to take and the skills they need to have to become top level high-tech employees,

The profile they found is an extremely homogeneous group, they found, which in turn raises some disturbing questions about barriers to earning a prestigious computer science or electrical engineering degree for those who come from low income homes.

In the case of Israeli Arabs, their rate of employment in the high-tech sector is low even when they have the relevant degrees. And women tend not to study tech related topics and when they do, they tend to leave the field after the age of 40 compared to their male counterparts.

The study, which was conducted by Yael Mazuz Harpaz and Zeev Krill, used Central Bureau of Statistics and income tax data tracking Israelis born between 1975 and 1985 and is current to 2014, when they were between 29 and 39 years old. That’s considered a representative age group reflecting people’s earning potential throughout their careers. It focused on data from 102,000 people employed in the high-tech sector, but was whittled down to a smaller group of people directly involved in technology.

The researchers studied the career paths of those with monthly salaries above the median in the field – 16,700 shekels ($4,700) per month, explaining that it is the best measure of employees who contribute to the organization and have skills for which there is relatively high demand. The goal, the researchers explained, was not to understand who could become a programmer, but rather which employees manage to become “workers stantial contribution to the high-tech industry.”

The profile they obtained was that these high-tech employees come from families in which the parents have high incomes and levels of education. On average the parents have two more years of education than the broader sample to which the high-tech employees were compared.

A particularly high number of successful high-tech employees grew up in relatively well-off communities such as Kochav Ya’ir, Ramat Hasharon and Ra’anana in the center of the country and Omer in the south. In addition, 75% of the successful high-tech employees passed the highest high school math matriculation level – five units – compared to 28% of the general sample studied. That turned out to be one of the best factors predicting success in the high-tech field.

It was no surprise that those who study subjects at institutions of higher education that are relevant to the high-tech field, such as electrical engineering and computer sciences, also had better prospects of successfully integrating into the field. But this was particularly true of people who attended leading universities, where the acceptance standards are higher. The average salaries of those who studied at universities rather than public colleges were also considerably higher.

The study found that the chances that men entering higher education would study fields relevant to high-tech are three times that of women of similar background. It also found that Jewish Israeli students study courses like engineering and computer programming four times as often as Israeli Arabs.

Between 1984 and 2014, the researchers found a total of only 1,600 Arab Israelis who had graduated with degrees in relevant fields such as electrical engineering, software engineering and computer sciences, but the picture had recently changed dramatically. In 2016, more Arabs (2,200) were studying the relevant subjects than all of the Arabs who had earned degrees in the fields in the prior 30 years combined. But Finance Ministry data also found that only 58% of Arab graduates with the relevant degrees manage to break into the field, compared to 75% of Jewish graduates.