Opinion

Israeli Cyberspace Needs More Women

Israel needs women to join the high-tech workforce, and the recruitment stage starts in schools

An employee works at a laptop computer at the Jerusalem Venture Partners JVP Media Labs in Jerusalem.
Rina Castelnuovo/Bloomberg

The proportion of women working in high-tech will remain low in 2017. It currently stands at less than one-third of all employees, according to Finance Ministry figures. Even without factoring in the fact that most women in high-tech work in nontechnological jobs, the proportion of women working in cyber-related fields drops even more sharply.

Israel is considered a global pioneer in cybersecurity. Since 2000, dozens of cyber-related companies have opened here every year. The fundraising by these firms is phenomenal, and the exits equally impressive. There are no official numbers for the number of women employed by cyber companies, but a random visit to any such firm reveals a grim picture: the number of women in cyberspace is minuscule, particularly in research and development.

Cyber issues came to the fore “thanks” to the activities of Anonymous, a group of hackers from around the globe. The group’s symbol defined the entire industry: a mask adorned by a beard and mustache. This seems to perfectly represent the way things truly are.

In cyber matters – as in high-tech generally – the Israeli army is the biggest supplier of the highest quality manpower for the civilian market. Elite intelligence units are mostly comprised of men, and after demobilization they take up research and development positions in successful cyber companies. Thus, in a system in which “one friend brings another,” entire groups of military graduates find themselves sharing a workspace and a military past, this time without uniforms but with well-padded salaries.

Occasionally, it’s women themselves who are deterred from taking jobs at cyber firms. That’s evident from the small number of CVs sent by women to such companies.

Cyberattacks are constantly occurring and their interception is a high-pressure, intensive job, which requires being available around the clock. This can deter many women, particularly those with children.

The technology industry is avidly seeking more workers, and bringing women into this specific field is an urgent need. There’s no reason why cyberspace can’t join the trend of “50:50 by 2020,” having an equal number of male and female workers.

The Prime Minister’s Office has defined the development of the cyber sphere as a national goal, which is why the state should consider giving incentives such as tax benefits to companies that employ a given number of women in technology-related positions. Moreover, the state should give women direct tax benefits for working in this field.

More importantly, we need to invest in education. Young girls must be encouraged to turn to complex technological fields, instead of being directed into more safe, comfortable areas. Such encouragement will fundamentally alter the situation. Cyber companies are also interested in creating a more socially balanced work space and building a reserve of male and female employees, which means they have to become more active in schools.

In order to increase the number of women working in these areas, cyber companies have to become more flexible, so that working conditions are more amenable to mothers. Directors of these firms need to offer creative solutions for flexible working hours, or allow people to work from home. Overseas, they call it the “work-life balance”: it works really well there, and there’s no reason it won’t work here, too.

Finally, women also have to undergo a transformation, along with the entire industry. We’re currently working to create a dedicated social network for women working in these areas. The more women join this particular workforce, the more the organizational culture will change and we’ll start seeing more female developers. The army has opened its ranks to female combatants – now it’s the cyber industry’s turn.

The writer is a director at the Palo Alto Networks cyber company.