Computer science remains a man’s world in Israel, leaving women at a big disadvantage for jobs in the country’s booming high-tech sector.
Although women account for 58% of all students pursing a bachelor’s degree at Israel’s universities and colleges, the rate among students of computer science was just half that (29%), according to figures compiled for the Council for Higher Education at TheMarker’s request.
In the United States, the percentage of women pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the field is an even lower 18%. Earlier this month, Google fired engineer James Damore for writing a memo claiming that women aren’t suited for tech jobs for biological reasons.
“The academic world has succeeded in achieving gender equality in leading areas like medicine and law, and we’re determined to do the same in high-tech,” said Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwomen of the education council’s steering committee on high-tech studies.
“The high-tech industries need a quality workforce, and bringing in women – who account for half the population, but far less of the employment in tech – is the way to build the workforce.”
Israel’s colleges and universities aren’t churning out engineers and software professionals at the pace the high-tech industry needs. A recent estimate by the Israel Innovation Authority estimated the labor shortfall will reach more than 10,000 over the next decade. Women, Israeli Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim) are three population groups officials are targeting to fill the shortfall.
The rate of women in Israeli computer science programs varies greatly between institutions. Unexpectedly, an ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem – the Lev Academic Center – is the leader: 53% of its computer science students are women. Lev’s 543 students account for nearly a fifth of all female students studying in the field.
Other top institutions for the percentage of women studying were Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, and Hadassah Academic College, where they comprise 35% of the computer science student body. The lowest rate was at Tel-Hai Academic College, Upper Galilee, with just 18% representation.
Another unexpected development is that women make up more of the senior faculty in computer science programs. Across Israel they accounted for 31% of all senior faculty in the programs. At three institutions – Ariel University, the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and Holon Institute of technology – the programs are headed by women, but the percentage of women pursuing degrees was on the lower end – 23%, 20% and 19%, respectively.
Zilbershats said the council is working to increase the number of women in computer science and other tech-oriented courses, including cooperating with the Education Ministry to identify high school girls for mentoring programs.
She added that the CHE was exploring scholarships and other financial incentives.