Starting up in Israel: The Unique Opportunity for Women

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Why you should keep an eye on the startups coming out of Israel — or better yet, launch your own there. 

By Chen Levanon (CEO, ClicksMob)

Israel is a booming hi-tech hub which has gained an international reputation as the “Startup Nation.” With the largest number of startups per capita in the world, Israel clearly serves as a great place for entrepreneurs and new tech innovations.

It's not only a great place for tech entrepreneurs in general. Specifically, there is an opportunity for women to rise to the top in Israel’s tech ecosystem, evidenced in part by the number of women in pivotal positions both in the tech and investment community – and its upward trend.

I look back on my own start as CEO of ClicksMob, a successful mobile advertising performance platform, with a clear sense of good fortune and appreciation. While our company is U.S.-based, currently much of our operations are in Israel.

The four male co-founders of ClicksMob entrusted me with the helm of their mobile ad-tech startup with incredible potential. After I became pregnant shortly after starting the position, the owners gave me the flexibility of an abbreviated schedule following a full maternity leave as part of their whole-hearted understanding of my new motherhood responsibilities, including seemingly endless pickups from daycare and occasional forays home to tend to our newborn’s needs.

ClicksMob has since grown into one of the leading players in the mobile advertising space with great growth in staff, revenue and profit — and I recently gave birth to my second child.

The more I see women rising to leadership roles in the “Startup Nation,” the more I’m encouraged that this society has a unique ability to promote gender equality and perhaps even serve as a model for other tech hubs. Four key factors have contributed to the growing number of opportunities for women tech leaders in Israel:

1. Education

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, more women continue on to higher education in Israel than men after graduating from high school (66 percent vs. 53 percent.) Of the students studying at academic institutions in 2010/11, 56.5 percent were women — meaning there is a highly educated female population and plenty of female talent in the workforce.

2. Cultural Appreciation for Work-Life Balance

The cultural appreciation in Israel for work-life balance stems from the deep value Israelis place on family. This is not to say Israelis work any less while maintaining this balance — schedules are usually just more accommodating. It’s not unusual for top business leaders to leave work during the afternoon to handle family responsibilities like soccer practice or preschool performances, and there’s simply no work-guilt about it. But once they’ve put in the quality time with the family, you can often find execs online for a large part of the night.

3. Role Models

Golda Meir became Israel's first female prime minister in 1969, the world's fourth woman to hold such an office, cracking the glass ceiling pretty early in the country’s existence. Israel has also had a female Foreign Minister, Speaker of the Parliament, and Chief Justice. With such role models, it’s no wonder that tech community is also benefitting from breakout female leadership.

4. Reserve Duty

In Israel, military service is mandatory, as is reserve duty, which continues for some well into their 50’s. Many CEOs and other execs leave their offices for a month or more to serve, and this has shaped a work culture that is very understanding of leadership absence in general. Ironically, military experience and the “boys club” it has engendered is often blamed for difficulties women have in advancing at work. The flip side is that prolonged absences of business executives due to military service means Israeli tech companies know how to fill that vacuum and adapt, and this includes maternity and family leave as well.

Trailblazers in the Israeli hi-tech community like Intel-Israel General Manager Maxine Fassberg, Israel’s former Chief Scientist and current Corporate VP at EMC Orna Berry and Facebook-Israel’s CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni, have succeeded in truly breaking the “silicon ceiling,” paving the way for the rest of us. Israel’s unique traits make me hopeful that the “Startup Nation” will in the near future have many more female trailblazers leading our dynamic tech scene.


About the guest blogger: Chen Levanon is the CEO of ClicksMob, a fast-growing mobile performance advertising network.