Think Middle East. Think women. You probably do not picture lab coats and test tubes. But in Israel, this image is becoming more and more common. Women in Israel now outnumber men in biology and related sciences in higher education in Israel, and they are earning more science degrees than men, according to business news website, www.bloomberg.com. And while most high-tech employees are men, women constitute 60-70% of the biotechnology workforce. Given this, it is clear that while women only hold about 13% of CEO positions in related companies, this statistic will grow quickly in the coming years. In the next decade many more women in Israel will be leaders in the industry.
As www.bloomberg.com also mentions, this is because women who are successful in these fields usually have to overcome more obstacles than their male counterparts, going above and beyond the usual requirements for success. This means that 1) a woman who wants to be successful must and will work harder than a man and 2) when a woman does succeed in the sciences in Israel, becoming a leader in a company, it is because she is really qualified, and therefore those companies are more likely to succeed as well. Hiring motivated women in Israel, the article states, gives companies an advantage and many businesses are beginning to take notice. More companies are looking to hire women, knowing that they will be (must be) on top of their game, working harder than men to achieve their goals.
However, these women are not just products of a natural worldwide progression of society. Israeli women in the sciences stand out as women to admire. Compare their achievements to women in the United States. In 2010 in Israel, 58% of biology doctorate degrees were awarded to women. Women in the United States were only awarded 44% of equivalent degrees. Israeli women are very clearly looking adversity in the face and tackling it head on.
Tal Ben Shahar, renowned Positive Psychology professor, discusses turning adversity into advantage as a unique “actualizer” of the Israeli people. Forced to be creative in a country with no oil and no natural resources, Israelis have built a culture around not giving up, but rather finding unique ways to triumph difficult situations. The success of biotech startups in Israel as a source of economic growth is in and of itself an example of this creative thinking.
And this culture is just as embedded in its women as it is in its men. Women worldwide face major obstacles in achieving what men have achieved in the sciences. But Israeli women in particular are now working harder than ever to change this pattern in biotech companies, so much so that they receive a majority of advanced degrees in the field and a majority of positions in the workforce. It is clear that the future of biotechnology in Israel and the role of women in that field will soon be invariably connected, and I am personally looking forward to the day that when people think of biotech in Israel, they think of women.