Israel secured the top spot in this year’s Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, up three spots from last year, as the best nation for female entrepreneurs.
While some Israeli women in the sector feel that the distinction is well deserved, others feel that their experience on the ground is not commensurate with the ranking jump over the last 12 months.
Just how much progress Israeli female entrepreneurs have made is very much up for debate, although most acknowledge that there has been at least a gradual improvement over a longer period of time.
Israeli women are not a monolithic group. While the government has many initiatives to promote female entrepreneurship, such as providing more funding to female-led startups and even more for those initiated by minority women, the highest-ranking country for female entrepreneurs might not be the best for all Israeli women in the industry.
Netta Doron, a Tel Aviv-based LinkedIn specialist, says that even though Israel is in first place, women entrepreneurs still face more difficulties than men.
“As I experience it, in terms of LinkedIn and the entrepreneurship arena, it’s tougher for women. While I do have some women entrepreneur clients, I don’t meet a lot,” she says. “I still feel the field is dominated by men.”
While Doron acknowledges she has seen some positive shifts over the last few years, including more conversations about including women and more female speakers at summits and conferences and general leaders overall, she says that the entrepreneurship scene is far from equitable between the genders.
“It’s not like [we can say] ‘Okay, we are there now, and it’s equal.’ It is still not ideal, it’s not 50/50 or even close to it,” says Doron, adding that the discrepancies in opportunities come from how women and girls are socialized.
“When women come to me, sometimes I feel they underestimate themselves…. It’s very typical for women, I see it less in men,” Doron says. “Women have to learn personal branding and how to put themselves in the center.”
The idea of having more women entrepreneurs is relatively new to the public sphere, and still needs to be pushed for, the LinkedIn specialist says, adding that the government needs to be doing more to make this happen.
Natalie Geffen-Zigel, CEO of the Yavne-based Geffen International, which consults for businesses on global trading, believes a lot of progress has been made, highlighting an increase in women in high tech and in leadership positions.
“[The international community is recognizing] the results and great successes of Israeli women in many areas of the business world, which is only getting better,” says Geffen-Zigel. “I hope this ranking provides us with more opportunities to prove we can succeed.”
Israel rose to first in the Mastercard Index mostly due to national programs intended to draw twice as many women to the entrepreneurship sector as there are now, within 48 months.
As such, the country excelled in government support for small and medium-sized enterprises, one of the index’s 12 measures and 25 subset measures, including in “Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions,” to determine the ranking of the nations.
The index assesses each country’s score based on improvement, or decline, in comparison to its performance in 2019, and provides a grade based on the combined point total.
The startup nation narrowly bested last year’s winner, the United States, which was followed by Switzerland rounding out the top three spots in the 58-country survey.
Dr. Dalia Fadila founded the Tira-based Q Schools: Education, Consultation & Development, a small English-language program, in 2007. It has since expanded into a pre-school-through-high school complete education program. She has also seen a lot of improvement over the last one to two years.
“I see more Arab women in my environment,” says the Israeli Arab educational entrepreneur. “More women now have the courage and confidence to start their own institutions and become entrepreneurs.”
Fadila attributes this growth in entrepreneurship to changes within Arab society.
“[Women] know they have to rely on themselves. The patriarchal big family structure in the Arab community has been weakened, and individualism has started to emerge as a value,” she says. “Arab women have started seeing themselves as individuals who lead their own entrepreneurship projects.
Fadila stresses, though, that there is a large opportunity gap between Jewish Israeli women and Arab Israelis, part of which is cultural.
"The larger Jewish Israeli culture is more open-minded; women have a more prominent role… starting from having women in politics to women in high tech. The Arab community is still emerging from a conservative perspective on the role of women," says Fadila, adding that the opportunity gap is in large part due to Arab women not having the same resources as their Jewish counterparts.
“Most do not have transportation available outside their village; the majority of buses do not connect to employment centers in specific cities,” Fadila says.
“Women in Arab communities are struggling with so many obstacles just to get even entry-level employment, let alone become an entrepreneur at an advanced level."
Despite these challenges, Fadila is optimistic about the future for Arab Israeli women entrepreneurs: “I can see there is so much hope. Each time I go through Tira, an Arab town in Israel’s Triangle region, I see more boutiques, shops, libraries and educational expenditures created by women in my community."
Zada Haj, the founder of Daifco, an online platform that matches experts to media outlets seeking their expertise, has a different perspective.
“I can’t say Israel is bad for entrepreneurs in general, so for sure it’s not bad for females, but… there are many resources that do not exist for women. I think we are far away from being first [in the world for female entrepreneurs],” says Haj, adding that the playing field between Jewish and Arab women entrepreneurs in not even by a long shot.
“The opportunities for Jewish women are not the same for Arab women. We face additional hurdles being Arab," says Haj. "Yes, we are all women [and face obstacles as women], but an Arab woman is not the same as a Jewish woman, and an Orthodox women is not the same as a Druze woman."
According to Haj, there needs to be more efforts focused specifically on Arab female entrepreneurs to ameliorate the situation.
“In my last [startup] accelerator program, there were only two females in the group,” Haj says. “It’s not due to lack of talent, but lack of resources such as lectures and programs targeting Arab women. Our families and our society are not connected to the startup nation, so we always feel like outsiders."
Haj adds that Arab women lack any real role models in the field. "If you grow up seeing a lot of women engineers in high tech, then you feel like that is something you can achieve as well. But when you only see men, you ask yourself and you start to question yourself and whether you belong.”
Article written by Tara Kavaler. Reprinted with permission from The Media Line