Israel has successfully branded itself as a “startup nation” but can it continue being one when only 20% of employees in its high-tech industry are women?

Last winter, 40 senior executives from the Israeli civil service took part in the first class of the Wexner Senior Leadership (WSL) Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participating in this four-week program was an amazing experience: learning from the best teachers in the world, in an outstanding setting, with terrific peers. Even the freezing temperatures in snowy Cambridge could not cool off our enthusiasm.

A major part of the program was exploring and working on complex problems that exist in Israeli society. Our goal was to use our common knowledge and experience and the resources of the helpful Harvard Kennedy School staff to develop possible solutions and pilot interventions that would effect positive change. We formed a working group of four people from various government agencies, something very rare in Israel, where most ministries are discrete and do not usually work together.

The problem we identified was the significant gender imbalance among technological employees in Israel. This “gender gap” can be found in the industrial sector (only 15% women), in the IDF (20% women) and in academia (29% women). We feared that ignoring the problem would only increase the gender gap in the future; cause a decline in productivity, growth and product quality across many industries; and, in aggregate, negatively affect not only Israel’s economy but also its national resilience.

Our analysis led us to the conclusion that one of the gender gap’s root causes is that not enough girls choose to take high-level STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses when they must pick their major subjects before entering high school. Consequently, there are very few women with the necessary skills to serve in the relevant positions in the IDF; thus after they have completed their military service, very few women study STEM subjects in university; and therefore very few women have the skills to join the high-tech industry afterward.

We also learned that the main reason for this is “stereotype vulnerability – the girls, their teachers, their parents (!) and boys all disbelieve that girls are equal and can succeed in these areas, although numerous studies have shown that there is no difference in aptitude between girls and boys.

And so, we developed a pilot intervention to increase the number of girls choosing high-level STEM studies before 10th grade. We plan to do that mainly by working with the girls, their parents and their teachers to reduce stereotype vulnerability across the board, and to improve incremental success and achievement for all girls. Our major innovation is working directly with parents and teachers. There are many programs dealing with this problem, but all of them focus on the achievements of only the highest-performing girls. We aim to lower stereotype vulnerability for all girls.  

We also narrowed our pilot intervention geographically to the city of Beersheba, capital of the Negev. We did this for several reasons: better focus; Beersheba has a very successful young leader (Mayor Rubik Danilovitch); Ben-Gurion University is located in the city; many major IDF bases have moved to the Negev; and finally, the establishment of the Cyber Center in Beersheba (the city recently declared itself Israel’s “cyber capital”).

Our pilot intervention will take place in three schools, and three additional schools will serve as a control group. It will include the following major elements:

  • Working with parents, teachers and students to combat the stereotype that girls cannot succeed in STEM areas.
  • Assisting high school female students in STEM studies (with help from female volunteers working in the high-tech sector, academia and the IDF).
  • Using statistics to introduce mathematics to girls (based on relevant research we were exposed to at HKS).
  • Using a management system to monitor the project and the girls’ accomplishments, and intervening immediately when identifying a girl in need of assistance.

We will face many challenges ahead but the experience so far has been very rewarding and educational. We feel honored and privileged to be part of the WSL program. 


(Pictured from left to right): Brigadier General Rachel Tevet Wiesel, Brigadier General Sharon Afek, Dr. Osnat Luxenburg and Eldad Canetti .

Colonel Sharon Afek is Commander of the General Staff and Command College of the IDF. He has served previously as Deputy Military Advocate General and as Advocate General of the Air Force. Sharon holds LL.B and LL.M degrees from Tel Aviv University, and an MA in Political Science from Haifa University and the National Security College. Sharon can be reached at

Eldad is the head of Planning, Policy and Strategy of the Ministry of Justice since May 2014. He came to the ministry from the private sector, where he was an entrepreneur, CEO of BWell – a subsidary of Migdal Insurance Company and CEO and owner of Canetti&Ron. Eldad holds a BA in Computer Science & Economy and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Eldad can be reached at

Osnat is the Director of Medical Technology Administration of the Health Ministry. Prior to her current position she was the Director, Division of Medical Technology Policy. Osnat also Lecturers in the Recanati Business School.Osnat holds an MBA from Bar Ilan University and Masters in Public Health from the Hebrew University. She received her MD from the Technion Medical School. Osnat can be reached at

Brig. General Rachel Tevet Wiesel is the Advisor to the Chief of the General Staff on Gender Issues of the IDF. Previously, she has served as Chief Justice of the IDF Central Command, Home Front Command and General Staff Units and IAF Military Tribunals and Head of Legal Supervision Branch, MAG Corps of the IDF. Rachel received her  LLB and LLM degrees from Bar Ilan University and lives in Tel Aviv.