On Payday, Israel Remains a Man’s World

Women account for nearly half the workforce, but for most part, top jobs and high pay still elude them.

TheMarker Women and the Stock Market conference in Tel Aviv
Tomer Appelbaum

Israeli women have made great strides in the labor market in the past few decades — they now account for nearly half the workforce — but for the most part, the top jobs and high pay still elude them.

That, in short, is what a clutch of data from government and private sector bodies show ahead of International Women’s Day, March 8.

In 2014, the last year for which figures are available, women made up 48.9% of Israel’s labor force. The percentage of working-age women who worked or were looking for a job jumped to 73%, from 30% in 1967, while men’s workforce participation rate declined during this period, to 80% from 87%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

But even as more women joined the workforce, they were still paid one-third less than men, on average, at 7,439 shekels ($1,900) a month before taxes, compared to 11,114 shekels for men, according to CBS data.

The male-female pay gap in Israel was the fourth widest among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. At the bottom 10th of the pay scale, the gender pay gap in Israel was 15%, compared to 10% on average for OECD countries; at the top 10th it’s an even wider 29%, compared to an OECD average of 19%.

Part of the gap was due to the fact that women worked an average of just 36.7 hours a week, compared to 45.2 hours for men. But even when hourly wages for men and women were compared, the pay gap was still 16.3%. That, experts says, is because women disproportionately work low-paying jobs, often in traditionally female professions.

BDO Consulting Group surveyed 1,410 senior executives and directors at companies that make up the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s TA-100 index and found a paucity of women. Only one-fifth of senior managers, and just five out of 94 heads of boards of directors at these companies were female.

In government-owned companies, women were better represented on boards, at 40% of all board members, though even that was short of the 50% quota they were supposed to meet.

“The data show that boards are still male and they show how far Israel lags behind many Western countries that chose to address the issue and legislate standards,” said Keren Kibovich, who wrote the study for BDO.

In Norway, she said, 37% of company directors are female, and in France women comprise 30% of directors. In the United States, however, it’s just 12%. Among outside directors, women are better represented in Israel, holding more than 30% of the posts.

Kibovich speculates that’s because they bring expertise in finance. “If a controlling shareholder is looking for a woman director, having expertise in finance and accounting is an advantage because there aren’t many of these in the market,” she said.

That is the case of Segi Eitan, CEO of Property & Building Limited. It’s the top position at a publicly traded company in a sector traditionally dominated by men. Eitan began her career in accounting and had Azorim, a big property company, as a client. She eventually moved to the company itself and rose through the ranks.

“I think that if you have persistence, determination and skill and commitment, you can get what you want,” she told TheMarker.

Another woman CEO in the building sector, Dafna Harlev of the Aviv Group, says that real estate and building aren’t a man’s world.

“There are almost no women in real estate, which is strange. In the construction finance units of the banks there are women managers, and there are a lot of successful property assessors, lawyers in the field, so I ask myself why don’t we see them as CEOs?”

Women were also underrepresented in high-tech, one of Israel’s best paying sector. Nearly a third of Israeli women were in traditionally female professions, the “pink ghetto” of home health care, elementary-school teaching, retail sales and bookkeeping, according to CBS figures.

The number of women in management nationwide rose 5%, or by 5,600, to 120,600 in 2014, but they only accounted for 7% of all employed women. Among men, nearly twice that percentage were managers.

One woman who has found a place in high-tech and as an entrepreneur is Nora Nseir, 29. An Israeli Arab from Nazareth, she is co-founder and chief technology officer of the biotech startup Nurami Medical, which develops nanofiber technology for soft tissue repair.

“When I was in high school, I loved math and wanted to go into science,” she says. “I went to an open house at the Technion Israel Institute of technology and heard a lecture in biomedical engineering. I saw pictures of a mouse with what looked like a human ear growing out of its back,” Nseir says, referring to the Vacanti mouse. “I knew this was the field I wanted. I had complete support from my family.”

Interestingly, the pay gap between Israeli Arab women and their male counterparts is smaller than the gap between Israeli Jewish men and women — Israeli Arab women earned 5,271 shekels a month, “only” 26.7% less than the average monthly salary for Israeli Arab men, 7,190 shekels — far less than their Jewish countrerparts.

On an hourly basis, Arab women earned slightly more than Arab men, mainly because they tend to be better educated: Israeli Arab women have an average of 13.7 years of education, compared with just 12 years for Israeli Arab men.