Ethiopian Israeli Women Suffer Racism, Discrimination at Work, Study Finds

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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People rally following the killing of Solomon Teka by the police, last year.
People rally following the killing of Solomon Teka by the police, last year. Credit: rami shllush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israeli women of Ethiopian descent suffer discrimination at work, characterized by lower salaries and limited promotion opportunities, as well as have difficulty getting hired in the first place, a study by the Adva Center has found.

The integration of Ethiopian Israeli women into the job market faces multiple obstacles, the study concluded. Many of the women's entry point is already low – they suffer from educational inequality and thus acquire fewer occupational skills. Moreover, they are less acquainted with the job market, and their social networks are less likely to affect their hiring.

In addition, they are met with prejudice, racism, discrimination and mistrust on the part of Israeli employers.

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For the purpose of the study, which was supported by the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, researchers interviewed both Ethiopian Israelis who were born in the country and ones who immigrated to it.

Women who participated in the focus group told Adva that they feel like employers regard Ethiopian Israelis as less educated or talented, thus they mainly seek to employ them as cleaners.

B., 47, who used to work as a dental hygienist, told Haaretz that a patient once walked into her office for an appointment and told her, “No, sweetie, you’re confused, I’m here for someone else.” When B. told the patient that she indeed was the hygienist, the woman said "I was certain I was coming to someone non-Ethiopian.”

Adva's study was conducted in 2018-2019 and according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Ethiopian Israelis constituted 1.7 percent of the population in 2019, or 155,300 people. Almost half are in their peak employment years (25 to 64), and half of those are women.

During the recent decades the Ethiopian Israeli community saw some major changes when it comes to employment. If in 1995, only 20.3 percent of Ethiopian Israeli women of working age were employed, in 2011 the figure rose to 69 percent, and to 75.1 percent in 2016, slightly higher than the employment rate among all Israeli women. It is important to note that in the 90s many of the Ethiopian Israeli women were recent immigrants who didn’t know Hebrew.

Almost 70 percent of Ethiopian Israeli women in 2016 were employed in sales, services and clerical work, fields with low salaries and high turnover. On average, Adva said, Ethiopian Israeli women earn just over minimum wage.

For women with little education, the problems are even worse. Older women in particular are often employed via labor contractors, which means they are constantly being moved to another job and have trouble obtaining benefits.

In 2018, their average monthly salary came to 5,619 shekels ($1,736), compared with 8,546 shekels for all Israelis. According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Ethiopian Israelis earn less than other Jewish women in every industry. This is especially true for first-generation immigrants, the study shows, but it’s also true for women born in Israel.

The commission told Adva that the biggest problem integrating Ethiopian Israelis into the workforce was that employers have little faith in their abilities. Olim Beyahad, an organization that aims to promote Ethiopian Israelis' integration into Israeli society, reiterated this. “We’re offering [employers] engineers, and their offered jobs as maintenance workers.”

Over the past decade, the government has created several employment programs for Ethiopian Israelis. But while it defines Arab women as a group distinct from Arab men and in need of special attention, it has never done the same for Ethiopian Israeli women.

The study recommended that girls be encouraged to study a wider variety of subjects, including science and math, and that more Ethiopian Israeli women be hired by the public sector, which provides job security and benefits.

Adva’s study also highlighted the low number of Ethiopian Israeli teachers. According to the Association of Ethiopian Jews, there were just 516 as of July 2018. Only a fifth had full-time positions, and only 61 percent were employed by schools.

Ethiopian Israeli women also face racism when trying to apply for internships in the education sector. “Years ago, I wanted to be a preschool teacher and went for a job interview at a kibbutz,” one participant in the focus group told Adva. “She didn’t hire me, but rather someone else – Yulia. I asked why, and she told me there are people at the kibbutz who are uneasy when they see someone different.”

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