Israeli Companies Discover the Merits of Haredi Women

'Maybe the statistics indicate that Haredi women stay at home and bring up children. But it's important to know that there are Haredi women who go out and work'

Pnina Farid, 27, is a mother of three. She lives in Bnei Brak and has been working at Isracard for the last three and a half years. She began as a customer-service representative and today manages a team of 12 workers, which until recently had been mixed-gender - men and women.

Her career began at age 18, shortly after her marriage. At the time she worked in a jewelry store as a saleswoman. "I wanted to do more with myself," she says. "I heard about the job at Isracard and understood that it had the potential to be an interesting occupation with the possibility of advancement, too."

Ronit (not her real name ), 25, also has three children. She lives in Pardes Katz, and like Pnina, was intrigued by the career opportunities at Isracard. She had studied accounting and tax consultancy at the Haredi College of Jerusalem for professional training, but had trouble finding work because of her lack of experience.

She was also hired for Isracard's customer-service department but aimed to work in her profession, accounting. After two years at the company's call center, then six months as a supervisor at the department, she applied for a position at Isracard's accounting department and was accepted.

"Maybe the statistics indicate that Haredi women stay at home and bring up the children. But it's important to know that there are Haredi women who go out and work, and are held in high esteem for it," she says.

Naora Shalgi, human resources manager at Isracard, adds that "Haredi women are diligent. They are highly motivated." They come to work and stay focused on the job.

Isracard today employs 120 Haredi women at its customer-service department in Tel Aviv, answering phones. Moreover, the group grew fast: Isracard hired its first cadre of Haredi women, 12 of them, just five years ago, and saw that it was good.

The churn rate in calling and customer-service centers tends to be high. The usual employees there are kids fresh out of the army, or students working part-time in parallel with their studies. That's a constant headache for service-oriented companies such as Isracard, which would dearly love long-term solutions, people who would take the job and stay.

On average people don't stay more than two years at customer-service centers, says Shalgi. But Haredi women tend to see the job as a long-term career. "They provide an island of stability and their accrued knowledge becomes an asset," she adds.

Isracard isn't the only company to have discovered the virtue of employing Haredi women. "The idea of turning to the Haredi sector arose out of a real need for quality long-term employees," says Pazit Kalir, human resources manager at AIG Israel. The company now employs 35 Haredi women who live in Elad. They work at a special center opened in the ultra-Orthodox town two years ago.

The women provide the company with stability and it in turn can provide job security. Replacing a worker costs NIS 30,000 in recruitment and training costs, says Kalir. The company has an interest in keeping its workers - and the churn rate at its Haredi center is very low.

More stability, less pay

One reason more and more Haredim, men and women alike, are seeking employment is that the state has been cutting child allowances. But when they try to find work, they find many barriers. Some are internal - the special requirements of their religious rules. Other are external. Employers require that prospective employees pass tests, have a minimal education and can integrate into the culture of the secular workplace.

In the last five years, Haredi women have found "warm homes" in high-tech. They undergo training for computer programming and product-quality testing. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox women have found jobs at technology companies - where they tend to get paid about a third of what their their secular peers receive.

In customer service they get paid the same as their peers, even though, as in technology, employers have to make adjustments; for instance, to provide the women with a segregated workplace and kosher food.

The process of hiring is also different for secular people and Haredim. Isracard, for example, requires its workers to have matriculation certificates, but Haredim study in completely different education systems and can't fulfill that requirement, says Shalgi.

Or take Isracard's standard evaluation of prospective employees; that can't suit Haredim either. Its solution was to employ a firm to evaluate candidates from the ultra-Orthodox community.

The companies also have to make allowances for their different holiday requirements, Shalgi adds. The Haredi women need to leave earlier on Fridays and holiday eves, for instance. But it pays for the company to make those allowances, these companies evidently conclude. All options for advancement are open.

"The only thing that can stand in someone's way is personal issues, whether she can work in a mixed-gender workplace, transfer to a call center in another city and so on," says Shalgi. The women may start at the call centers but they can apply for any higher position that opens at the company, as long as they have the qualifications.

Agency: 20,000 Haredim seeking work

Manpower Bereshit is an employee placement company that specializes in the Haredi sector. Since its establishment, it has found jobs for more than 5,000 people in a wide range of industries, from banking to insurance, communications, high-tech and manufacturing.

Some of the people it has placed work as temps, others get hired by the companies directly.

Manpower Bereshit gives its the people it places special training, as the client companies require, and also helps the companies integrate the new Haredi workers. There is great demand for its services in the Haredi community: It has 20,000 people on its lists seeking work.

Orna Segal, chief executive of parent company Manpower Israel, says the placement of Haredim took off in 2009, after aptitude tests for that community were created. It has helped that the business sector no longer views the employment of Haredim as a kind of community service but now recognizes their virtue as workers, she adds. In short, everybody wins.

Haredi women working at a call center.
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