International Women's Day: Being an engineering student, all I could think was "Where are all the women engineers?"

Fraud Analytics Team Leader at IBM Trusteer, Yarden On, discusses what first sparked her love of technology and her experiences working as a woman in the Israeli technology sector.

International Women's Day is held annually on March 8th to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women whilst providing a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year, IDG Connect has interviewed women from across the world who work in the technology sector to find out more about the current global landscape for Women in Tech.

According to one report, the Middle East now has more women working in tech per-capita than anywhere else in the world. While globally, only 10% of internet entrepreneurs are women, MENA-based startup accelerator Wamda estimates that in Middle Eastern cities, that figure stands at around 35%.

As large parts of the Middle East continue to promote conservative cultural traditions surrounding gender roles, many women in the region have found the technology industry offers them the level of flexibility necessary to have a career whilst undertaking domestic duties. 50% of university graduates in the Middle East are female, however women only make up a fifth of the region's workforce. The advancements within the technology industry have meant that women who chose to observe this customary way of living are now able to fulfil their desire for entrepreneurship, working from home instead of completely forgoing traditional means of employment.

Of course, a large number of women in the Middle East have chosen to pursue a career in technology because that's what they are passionate about and, unfortunately, they often face the same barriers as their peers in other parts of the world. A 12-year study by the Israel Venture Capital Association found that male-led startups raised twice as much per financing round than female-led ventures, whilst long-standing gender stereotypes mean female technologists are often taken less seriously than their male colleagues.

Furthermore, women make up only 18% of boards of public companies in Israel and there are only five female CEOs of companies listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. 93% of executives at technology companies are male and the only female chairwoman in the industry was one of the controlling shareholders.

One initiative that was launched to help tackle this wide-ranging inequality was the TechWomen programme, which saw the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs pair women working in Silicon Valley with female tech employees throughout the Middle East and Africa. The initiative has just entered its eighth year and throughout that period, over 600 women from the MEA region have taken part.

Yarden On is a Fraud Analytics Team Leader at IBM Trusteer where she heads up a team of analysts who work with various customers around the globe to prevent fraud, detect attacks and stop threat actors from causing any damage. Here, she discusses what first sparked her love of technology and her experiences working as a woman in the Israeli technology sector.


What first attracted you to the technology sector?

I grew up in a very technological home - I have two older brothers that are also working in tech, as well as my father. I was always fascinated by computers and in the last few years, I understood that insights from data can be used for almost anything. Understanding that technology can help humanity with every aspect in life made me want to be a part of this revolution.

I love technology, interested in tech solutions for different problems and always looking for a way to make the world a better and safer place using technology.


What was your route into your current job?

I studied my bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering majoring in Information Systems at Tel Aviv University. As a student, I worked as a NOC operator for a gaming company and later on as a requirements analyst for a major semiconductors chip corporation.

Once graduated, I started working at IBM Trusteer, an Israeli cybersecurity start-up acquired by IBM during 2013.

My initial role was a fraud analyst working with major financial institutes mostly in North America, analysing fraud data and trends while incorporating insights and conclusions into the company's product targeted to detect fraud on online banking channels.

After two years as a fraud analyst, I was promoted to be the team leader of my team.


What has been your experience as a woman working in the technology sector in Israel? Please share any positive or negative examples if you are happy to do so.

At my student position as a requirements analyst, I was part of a large department of experienced electrical engineers - all of which were men. Being an engineering student, all I could think was "Where are all the women engineers? How is it possible there are only men in this group?". During that time, the company suggested additional bonuses for employees that will submit women CV's for technical positions.

Today, a few years later, working for IBM Trusteer - I see a completely different type of group. My manager is a woman and so are some of my fellow team leaders. Within the group itself, half of the analysts are women coming from different academic backgrounds.

As a woman interviewing other women for my team, I often hear a lot of apologetic answers to different questions. I feel that some technology companies might create a working environment that does not support women, motherhood and work-life balance. Even in 2019, this causes more struggles to women than men. Many women share information such as "I'm not planning to have children soon", "I'm single" or other details that are irrelevant to their skills and knowledge. These are the only things that should matter.


What changes have you seen in the diversity of workplaces over the course of your career?

Over the course of my career, I noticed there is a global change in understanding the importance of diversity. The conversation has changed, organisations and individuals want to have a more diverse team. Living in Tel Aviv, which is a very liberal city in the center of Israel, it is extremely noticeable that companies here are more diverse than other tech companies in Israel I've worked with in the past.


Do you think organisations are doing enough to ensure they hire a diverse work force?

I think organisations today are taking a great leap forward to ensure a diverse team of employees yet there is a long way to go. I believe that organisations need to understand the huge advantages of being a diverse company - for better ideas, for a wider range of thoughts and a safer work environment for all groups and genders.

Once organisations put being a diverse and inclusive company as one of their goals with specific deadlines and KPIs, they should act and target diverse groups pro-actively.

Organisations should assist with dealing with these issues by tackling the problem from its roots. That means joining the efforts of social organisations targeted to push forward different communities and weak populations.


Why do you think the technology industry still struggles to represent women in leadership roles?

That's a hard question. I think some of the characteristics required for being a leader such as assertiveness and dominance are sometimes perceived differently for women. Women are sometime perceived as "too harsh", "bitchy" or "aggressive" while men with the same characteristics will be perceived as great leaders.


What are the biggest roadblocks facing women entering the technology industry?

I believe the roadblocks start from a very young age. As children, most of the toys "for girls" are less challenging and do not require thinking, building and solving problems. Growing up, girls find it more unusual when they choose to study physics or computer science at school. It was always a "boys' thing".

The inculcation of these differences from an early age leads to the fact that fewer and fewer women choose the technological world as their career path.

And once they enter the technological world? The difficulty of managing a career along with a family, the social expectation that women will be the parent who takes the more significant part in raising children, and the lack of balance between work and home, creates a situation that even after an academic degree and a clear career path, women sometimes stay behind or choose to leave the industry.


What can we do to improve workplace opportunities for women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ employees and disabled employees?

I believe the first step is to pro-actively look for them. Give them the opportunity. Other than that, organisations should work to provide a safe work environment for their employees that will attract others to join them. The work environment should be free of prejudices, political opinions and anything that can cause discomfort for the employees. It's a process that feeds itself - once workers come from different backgrounds, different communities and regions, the work environment will be more pleasant and diverse for everyone.


What does the future look like for women in tech?

Being an optimist at heart, I believe there is a bright future for women in tech. It is a process that needs to be a global change and women should be a part of. I believe that with time we will see more and more women in key positions that will bring the change into their own groups and companies.