I’m hardly a feminist. I admit that in law school I viewed all the feminist law/philosophy classes as “out-of-date” and targeted at angry women who hate men. Why would I think differently? We were brought up thinking that the “fight” is over: women are equal to men and the ones who don’t see it that way is because they choose not to. I was wrong.
A year and a half ago, I was invited by the Marseilles Bar Association to deliver a speech about Israeli female lawyers. I actually thought the topic was easy and that the hard part would be delivering the speech in French. I recently reviewed the data collected for my March, 2013 speech and was reminded that women were well-represented in the Israeli legal system: At the time, Israel had women in many leading positions: Minister of Justice, Adv. Tzipi Livni; President of the Labour Court Judge Nili Arad; 30% of the 10 largest law firms were run by women partners, and the numbers were even better in the public sector where almost 50% of highly-ranked lawyers were women. While Israel’s gender progress was not perfect and gender equality in law has yet to be reached, I left the Marseilles’ lawyers thinking that they should learn from Israel. I was wrong again.
A year ago, I changed careers and moved into the innovative, fast-growing, futuristic, world of venture capital and hi-tech. Quickly I discovered that this young, modern world is missing one major component — women.
Let’s just assume we are over that “science and robotics are for boys” phase and we acknowledge that there should be and there are more women in tech and that they are looking to get ahead. And we already know that gender equality is not only just, but also good for your business and your family’s happiness (and if you don’t know — info below). What is it then that keeps us women from taking the wheel and driving the bus? How could it be that in 2015 there is only one woman founder-partner of a VC fund in Israel? Why is there a small number of women partners in general? Why do women constitute only a third of the Israeli hi-tech industry? and why do they constitute less than 10% of Israeli entrepreneurs?
I suggest that the reason is a lack of women mentors.
Of course, we can suggest many factors that cause this dearth of women in tech. Perhaps women are less daring than men, maybe; Perhaps it is statistics because only one-third of Israeli students in physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, computer science, engineering and architecture fields, are women, and only one-quarter of R & D workers in the country are women. Perhaps. However, I would argue that most of these are only symptoms caused by a lack of women mentors and role models in the tech industry.
If we had our Israeli Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Lisa Lambert (Intel); and If women had enough female role models, clear career paths to copy or follow, or just the general acknowledgment that we can make it too, things would be better for us and the statistics would follow.
I understand that this is a chicken and egg challenge: there are not that many women in high positions in tech so we cannot have many role models. However, let me suggest that, we don’t need a lot of role models. We need a few, that will step up and step out and share their story and inspiration with us.
I am not saying that as a lawyer I had a ton of women mentors, but the legal field is more regimented and the clear career track (intern → associate → partner) created less of a need. Perhaps, I wouldn’t have left law if I had a mentor.
Therefore, I want to challenge all of the successful women and men in Israel and the world. It does not matter if you are in tech, investments, the public sector, law or fashion; whether you are assistants, CEOs, judges or partners. Help your fellow women colleagues. Push for other women’s promotions. Make sure you are the one helping the fellow women in your office and not stepping on her toes. Offer to help or teach. Just because it was hard for you and you made it in a men’s world, you don’t need to let other women go through the same process — there are other ways for women to make it. Find a mentee and meet once a month for coffee. Of course it would be best if you both have the same profession in common, but I believe that even if you are a pilot and your mentee is ballet dancer, she can still benefit from this meeting. Growing and leading are not career-specific. Believe it or not you will probably learn and receive more from those meetings then you will actually invest in them.
Oh, and one last thing for me — please don’t let yourself or other women think that the fight is over and that feminist courses are for men hater women. It’s a manly thought ;)
More information on the subject you might be interested in :
- Catalyst’s report — Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors.
- McKinsey & Company estimated that if women worked the same hours and made the same amount of money in total as men, the resulting economic output would add $28 trillion in global gross domestic product per year.
- Michael Kimmel on why gender equality is good for everyone — men included