Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

9 Women in the Cabinet: The Real Benefit

For the first time in Israel’s history, one-third of the Government Cabinet will be filled by women: 9 out of 27. Commentators have pointed (correctly) to its symbolic progress for women as a possible harbinger of eventual full equality. That’s important, but not the main benefit: far better governmental functioning.

Research – mostly in the field of Business Administration – has shown that companies do better financially when there is a minimum number of women on the Board of Directors and/or in upper day-to-day management. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Whereas males in leadership positions tend to make decisions in solo fashion and don’t shy from decisions that will be unpopular with those lower down the hierarchy, women tend to be far more “consensual” in their decision-making process. While this might occasionally lead to a “pareve” outcome (metaphorically, neither meat or milk), it does have the huge advantage of ensuring that everyone is on board once the “collective” decision is made. Moreover, every large organization has internal competing interests that are quite legitimate from each sub-unit’s standpoint. Unless both/all of these are taken into account and part of the decision-making process, they will tend to undercut any decision that works against their interests.

Governments are no different; indeed, such internal competing interests are part and parcel of a democratic society – for if there were no differences of opinion, we wouldn’t even need to go to the polls! Thus, it is precisely here that female decision-makers have an advantage over their male counterparts. Let’s take some examples from the present, new government.

The two ministries that have been traditionally at loggerheads are Energy vs Environmental Quality. The former wants to develop and use the least expensive energy source or the source that Israel itself produces, whereas the latter strive for the least polluting type of energy. Occasional massive spills – either land pipelines within Israel or near its coastline – are another consideration that the latter ministry worries about, but the former far less, if at all. The two women running these ministries are the first to see eye to eye: Tamar Zandberg (Environment) and Karin Elharar (Energy). We can expect some significant change in Energy policy, with greater emphasis on clean energy (solar, wind, perhaps even geo-thermal) – and less use (more export) of the gas extracted from the Mediterranean Sea.

Add to this to other female ministers. Automobiles are one of the biggest energy consumers, so that it is reasonable that Meirav Michaeli, the new Transportation Minister, will also work hand in hand with the above two ministries in pushing for more public transportation and less car guzzlers – not to mention greater incentives for electric and hybrid cars. And Orna Barbivai as Economics Minister should easily be able to see eye to eye with Elharar at Energy in pushing clean energy technology as a major employment booster, just as the Biden Administration has been doing. It will also help that Barbivai and Elharar are from the same party (Yesh Atid). Moreover, they are politically quite close to Michaeli (Labor) and Zandberg (Meretz) – all part of the Center-Left “wing” in the government.

Similar cooperative efforts will be forthcoming between Pnina Tamna Shatta (Immigration and Absorption) and Meirav Cohen (Social Equality), in this case two natural allies from the ministerial standpoint.

Even two ministries that on the face of it have little to do with each other – Interior (Ayelet Shaked) and Education (Yifat Shasha Biton) – have some work cut out for them, given that Israel’s educational resource system is illogical and somewhat dysfunctional: the Education Ministry develops and oversees the curriculum but the Ministry of the Interior (municipalities) controls the construction of school buildings! Even more confusing, regular (permanent) teacher salaries are paid directly by the Education Ministry but for non-permanent teachers, administrative staff, and salaries of “quasi-official” schools (e.g., the Haredi yeshivot), the ministry funnels the money through the municipalities. That entire “Rube Goldberg” organizational contraption demands the constant cooperation of these two ministries.

This doesn’t mean that everything will work smoothly. For instance, one of the major tax revenue sources for the Finance Ministry (Avigdor Lieberman) is the automobile purchase tax that the ministry has always been loath to reduce or eliminate. This is one of the main reasons that public transportation in Israel lags behind its OECD counterparts. Thus, Michaeli, Elharar, Zandberg and Barbivai will have to join together to get Lieberman to moderate his ministry’s traditional aversion to any reduction of this tax. That’s not strictly a female vs male issue, but from the decision-making standpoint, it certainly will be a test of the ability of these four impressive women to convince their male counterpart (known to be a “lone wolf” decision-maker) to change direction.

In short, more females in the cabinet means that slowly but surely, we should see a moderation of Israel’s traditional macho “I’ll decide what’s best” (lack of) collective process in determining policy — precisely what this government’s “matchmaker” Yair Lapid has called for. If it has worked in Scandinavia, Germany, and New Zealand with their successful female leaders, there’s no reason it can’t make inroads into Israel’s previous male-dominated policy process as well.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published three books and 60 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. For more information and other publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com
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