That women constitute a minority of the hi-tech industry is well known and frequently discussed in the media. Yet a new study shows that women are also poorly represented in the hi-tech and financial sections of newspapers – often at rates much lower than their already low proportion in the industry, thus creating a vicious circle which further making solving tech’s urgent gender problem harder.
The study, written by Guy Yitzhak of IFAT Media Analysis, examined women’s representation in hi-tech coverage (both in print and online) by Haaretz’s sister publication TheMarker, as well as other Hebrew-language media outlets like Globes and Calcalist, from mid-2019 to mid-2021. Altogether, it surveyed 905 articles that mentioned more than 6,000 people.
According to the report, which was commissioned by Google for Startups Israel, women accounted for only 7 percent of the people whose pictures appeared in these reports. Only 10 percent of the quotes came from women, and only 9 percent of the interviewees mentioned by title were women.
In contrast, women accounted for 28 percent of hi-tech workers in 2020 and an estimated 10 percent of hi-tech entrepreneurs.
As a well-known catchphrase says, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” In other words, women’s representation in the media, like that of other groups, is of decisive importance for the next generation – their ambitions, the paths they choose to follow and how far they get.
“If girls don’t see role models, they won’t want to do this,” said Carine-Belle Feder, chief technology officer and founding partner of the digital health startup Antidote Health. “It begins there – someone sees something and wants to do that when she grows up.
“It sounds naïve, but every study I’ve read on this issue begins with role models,” she continued. “If the press doesn’t make this leap forward, it will be hard for the industry to make the leap.”
The study also included a “photographs” category. Within this category, the most common group photo in hi-tech pages is of a pair of male founders. There were also many more pictures of solo men (founders or senior managers). Pictures of women generally showed them in pairs.
Some 91 percent of the pictures of women were group pictures, compared to only 58 percent of the pictures of men. On the other hand, women accounted for 34 percent of the people shown in these group pictures – more than their proportion in the industry.
“Our goal is to help founders grow and succeed, with an emphasis on entrepreneurs from underrepresented populations,” said Orit Shilo, head of Google for Startups Israel, which commissioned the report. “In Israel, that means women, Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox.”
“Over the past year, we decided to raise awareness of this issue of underrepresentation,” she continued. “In Israel, women account for almost 30 percent of hi-tech, but the more senior the position, the lower the rate of women.
“Admittedly, there has been an improvement. There are more women, and they’re going farther. But it’s happening slowly.
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“The industry is in a period of enormous growth; it’s exploding. We see the big successes in hi-tech, and we see these people moving on to other successes after that. But there aren’t enough women there. We’re missing this wave,” she concluded.
The media’s job
“Without downplaying the financial media’s responsibility, there are two sides to the coin,” said Feder, who also founded Baot, a community of women in research and software development jobs that encourages women to attend professional meetings and conferences. “It’s not just how much coverage this type of press does or doesn’t give women, but also the women themselves, how much they want to or are willing to be seen.”
“I don’t like being interviewed; for me, it’s a bit of a nightmare,” she continued. “But I work hard so that women will be presented prominently in the industry and coverage of it. I think this is typical of women in hi-tech: They want to work, not to be stars, because that’s not how we were raised – to stand out, to come forward and say ‘I was there and I did that.’
“Part of our job is to say, ‘Step forward, show yourself.’ And that’s something I do with myself. If someone wants to interview me, I swallow hard and do it, because I understand that if I don’t do it, there’s no representation. But I also hope I won’t feel this need in another year or two or 10, because there will be a lot of women.”
Feder said that Baot has plans to help woman in tech participate in lectures and conferences, but “women will usually tell you they have nothing to lecture on. Even someone who has been working in the industry for years will say ‘I have nothing to teach others, I don’t know what to talk about.’
“Ninety percent of the submissions to the conference will be from men – who haven’t necessarily worked for a long time in the field, but already feel they have something to teach us all. So you tell the women, ‘Come and tell me what you do on a daily basis,’ and you discover that they’re doing amazing things.”
As for journalists’ role in the problem, Feder said, “It’s not enough to periodically write an article about the fact that there aren’t enough women in the field. This requires daily work. If people write about an important issue and all the interviewees are men, or there’s only one woman quoted in the entire article, it’s strange. It’s part of a journalist’s responsibility to say ‘There needs to be appropriate representation in the articles I write.’”
There’s a lively debate in the hi-tech industry about women’s place in the field. Do you sense any change on the ground?
“Yes, even if we always hope things will progress faster,” Feder replied. “There’s very big and growing awareness of the issue of women’s role in the industry. And it wasn’t like that a few years ago. Employers also understand better that if more women don’t enter these jobs, there won’t be enough people.”
It takes time to see these changes, she continued, because “you have to complete an entire cycle – girls who decide to study computer science in high schools, then are drafted into technological roles [in the army] and then start working in the industry. It takes several years.
“But even now, we’re seeing women much younger than us who want to integrate into the industry. We’re jealous of them, but also give full credit. I only wish we’d had such awareness of what we deserve at age 22. It’s great, and I want them to flood the industry. However, that will take another few years.”
Natali Tshuva is co-founder and CEO of Sternum, a startup involved in protecting devices connected to the internet as part of the so-called internet of things. “I was almost always the only woman in the room, and I missed seeing someone like myself,” she said.
“But when I started my company, I also noticed that male CEOs have someone to go to for advice and their personal network is very broad. Then I found out about the Baot community, which was founded by women who were tired of being the only women at technological conferences, and I started looking around me and considering which women are present in the industry.
“My conclusion was that there really are very few women, especially in senior positions – founders and managers. But at the same time, there’s also underrepresentation, which is visible in the number of women lecturing at conferences or receiving media coverage.”
As someone who entered the field at a young age, did you feel you lacked a female role model?
“That gave me a lot of motivation to become a role model myself,” Tshuva said. “I would like our girls to be a female Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, because we lack women who are changing the industry in a significant way, and that’s where we need to be for this to be a real game-changer.
“But beyond the role model issue, I would like to see more people like me – that is, women. There’s an interesting experiment I like to conduct – ask my male friends how they would feel sitting in a management meeting with 20 women. It’s a strange, unpleasant feeling.”
Like Feder, Tshuva said the decision to put herself out front wasn’t an easy one. “I hate being interviewed. During the last round of capital raising, I made a deliberate and difficult decision to talk about the fact that it was taking place during the advanced stages of my pregnancy.
“The reason I chose to do this was to show that it’s possible to raise a significant amount of money from a leading VC fund while pregnant. But that’s not something I wanted to share on a personal level. I’m a private person and I would have preferred to talk only about Sternum, not about myself.”
A vicious circle
According to IFAT’s report, there are some differences among different papers’ coverage.
TheMarker came in first for the proportion of individual pictures of women (8 percent of all hi-tech pictures, compared to 6 percent in Globes and 7 percent in Calcalist), the proportion of quotes from women (11 percent, compared to 8 percent in Globes and 10 percent in Calcalist) and the number of female interviewees mentioned by title (12 percent, compared to 9 percent in Globes and 6 percent in Calcalist). Globes was slightly ahead in the number of group pictures involving women (34 percent, compared to 33 percent in TheMarker and Calcalist).
“The analysis showed that women are frequently covered from a gender angle, with reference to how they manage as women in this space, and also to the fact that they succeeded as women, which is generally emphasized and even expands the company’s coverage,” the report said.
“How we cover this is a question no less important than whether or how much we cover it,” said Dr. Aya Yadlin, a senior lecturer in the political science and media department at Hadassah Academic College who studies the intersection of minority groups and technology.
“What if the coverage, for instance, perpetuates the exclusion of women that has existed for many years?” she continued. “If, for example, women are still asked most of the time how they combine their long working hours as an entrepreneur with raising children, that’s a problematic depiction.
“From the examples in the report, we already see that women are expected to deal with crises and respond emotionally, even if they aren’t caregivers or social workers, while men are given a much more businesslike context. I’m not saying that’s necessarily good or bad, but you have to ask what this means, what readers take away from this, when articles featuring women give you the feeling that women are required to deal with something all the time, whereas men raise the money.”
“Men aren’t asked about parenthood,” Yadlin continued. “They aren’t asked ‘how did you make the Zoom calls with your children in the background?’ Women are expected to talk about this, and then they are constricted into a biological space. How many men have been interviewed and said, ‘It’s very hard to be a father and raise money at the same time?’
“Journalistic conversation has significance. The press does one of the most important jobs in a democratic society today – giving us access to a world we don’t know personally.
“Most of us don’t work in or understand hi-tech. We need someone to be our bridge to this space. But if the press doesn’t give us access to this in a meaningful way, we won’t understand it,” she concluded. “So we have to ensure that the coverage doesn’t fall into gender traps.”