Meet the next generation of inspirational Arab Israeli women

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Meet the next generation of inspirational Arab Israeli women

Candice Krieger hears about the 'double barrier' faced by a minority trying to find work in the tech industry, with a UK Embassy in Israel initiative to increase participation

The second meet-up of the Arab Tech Community at WeWork Haifa in February 2020
The second meet-up of the Arab Tech Community at WeWork Haifa in February 2020

The tech industry is booming. Yet diversity within it is drastically lagging behind, with ethnic minority women one of the most disadvantaged groups when it comes to this sizzling sector. 

Nicknamed the ‘Start-up Nation’, Israel has the largest number of start-ups per capita in the world – but Arab Israelis, and women in particular, have struggled to get a foothold in the ecosystem.  

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are about 4,000 Arab engineers working in Israeli high-tech. That’s only around 1.4 to 1.5 percent of the whole Israeli tech workforce of around 280,000. Arab society accounts for 21 percent of Israel’s total population. And when it comes to women in general, only a small number hold senior positions in tech companies. 

“The lack of diversity in tech is a clear problem for the industry, for innovation and for society as a whole,” says Elinor Honigstein, Head of UK Office & Strategic Partnerships at UK Israel Tech Hub.

“Ethiopian, Bedouin, Orthodox, Arab… people in the periphery are minority groups who play only a small part in the Start-up Nation. 

“Being a woman and from a minority background may create a double barrier.”

However, the dial is changing through collaborations between the non-profit sector, the government and the tech industry. These include The British Embassy in Israel’s recently launched MoveUp post-accelerator program, ArabtechPort, which aims to empower Arab entrepreneurs and accelerate the entrepreneurship ecosystem within the Arab society and UK Israel Women Leading Innovation (WLI).

“Being a woman and from a minority background may create a double barrier.”

MoveUp, a collaboration between the UK Israel Tech Hub at the British Embassy and Presentense in partnership with CITI Foundation and Takwin VC, provides support for advanced-stage tech entrepreneurs from Arab society to help them take part in the ‘Start-up Nation’.

“Ensuring we work towards diversity in tech and encouraging women entrepreneurship has the power to create an inclusive society,” says Honigstein, who is leading the UK Israel WLI program – a cross-embassy collaboration, including the Hub, Department for International Trade, Science and Innovation Network and the British Council in Tel Aviv, to promote and connect women in innovation across
both countries.

Why have Arab Israelis in particular been so underrepresented?

Sami Awad, Arab Tech Sector Manager at the British Embassy Israel, explains: “Firstly, Arab Israelis don’t serve in Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF), with the exception of the Druze community. 

Sami Awad

“This creates a gap between Arab Israelis and their Jewish counterparts, as in Israel, the army is considered to be your first stop in acquiring new skills, being exposed to great innovation and networking opportunities. 

“Secondly, geographical spread; while Israel’s main industry and tech focal point is located in Tel Aviv, Arab villages are spread sporadically all over the country. Such spread limits the range of possible job and career opportunities that are available to Arab candidates. 

“Finally, cultural differences; in many other countries, while Jewish and Arab cultures are more similar than different, they still differ from one another in countless ways, making it more difficult to achieve integration and assimilation of both.

“Arab Israelis not only need to bridge these gaps, they need to do so under harsher and more scrutinised paths, simply for being a female in
a male-dominated industry.”

Two success stories of Arab Israeli women making their mark on Israel’s tech ecosystem are Afaf Shehab and Shireen Zoaby. 


Afaf Shehab worked in tech and is the co-founder of tech start-up Petwork. She is also a participant in the MoveUp post-accelerator program.

Education: Gained a bachelor’s degree in information technology from University of Haifa. 

Afaf Shehab

 Current role: Co-founder of Petwork, a digital network for pet owners that provides location-based information about the different services owners are interested in, while also allowing users to communicate, review and share their opinions.

How hard was it for you to land your first job in tech?

“Fortunately, doing well in university helped me score my first job relatively quickly, but I’m familiar with the difficult process of landing the first job in the tech industry.”

Do you feel outnumbered by men in your place of work and the ecosystem in general?

“Sure. I’m leading a start-up with a great partner, but most of the high-profile roles in the ecosystem in which we work are led by men. Luckily things are changing, though I feel it will take some time for women leading start-ups and companies to become a norm in the industry.”

Why have Arab Israeli women in particular been so underrepresented in tech?

“Though it is obvious that women in STEM  [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields are still under-represented worldwide, locally the issue is even more evident, and social limitations on all types of minorities are also influenced by the current political landscape.”

Are things changing?

“I am seeing more and more women in leading roles in all fields, which is inspiring the new generation to dream bigger. That, coupled with our current state of interconnectedness, makes everything closer which, in turn, contributes to the rise of more female industry leaders in tech
and beyond.” 

Is there more that needs to be done?

“There should be more workshops and collaborative efforts towards coordinating and supporting the next generation of women tech leaders.”

What advice would you offer other Arab Israeli women looking to pursue a career in tech?

“Dream big; everything is possible. There are many people who are willing to help and push you, don’t be afraid to ask.”


Shireen Zoaby, lead facilitator – WebAhead Coding Bootcamp at
Kav Mashve.

Shireen Zoaby

Education: BSc of computer science from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.

Current role: Lead facilitator of the coding bootcamps at Kav Mashve, a non-profit organisation that promotes equal employment opportunities for Arab university graduates within the Israeli business sector. 

How hard was it for you to land your first job in tech?

“Landing my first job in tech was tricky. I went to career fairs, sent out my CV and landed a few interviews and eventually went for the role I was most passionate about – course facilitator.”

Do you feel outnumbered by men in your place of work or the ecosystem in general?

“So far, in every event/class/work I have been surrounded by a lot more men than women.”

Why have Arab Israeli women in particular been so underrepresented in tech? 

“The main factors in not seeing Arab women properly represented in tech are:

  • Arab women are discouraged from pursuing a career in tech (or STEM in general); it is still considered a risky career and they are encouraged to pursue a more stable paying job such as teaching, humanities or healthcare.
  •  The tech scene is not diverse and not ready to integrate Arab women into the industry. A lot of Arab women will fail an interview because the interviewer hasn’t had such experience.
  •  Arab women may not pursue a career in tech even after finishing their academic studies; the imposter syndrome is harder to overcome when looking for a job and some women may not have the capacity to work long hours or travel far.”

Are things changing?

“Things are slowly changing as we better understand the problems and create solutions that fit the needs of the Arab society and Arab women in general, such as programs created especially to encourage high school girls to get into tech programs, communities for women in tech, and programs for Arab women who want to advance their tech careers. 

“We have seen a rise in the number of women enrolling in tech subjects in universities, but the representation is still low and the rate of it happening is too slow to see the difference in the near future.”

“Things are slowly changing as we better understand the problems and create solutions that fit the needs of the Arab society and Arab women in general

Is there more that needs to be done?

“Not enough has been done, but more is happening. We need to make this industry more accessible to Arab women, so the work should happen on two spectrums. 

“The first is working with employers to find a way to integrate more Arab women into their companies.

“The second spectrum is to enable Arab women and help them find a job in tech by raising awareness and giving them the tools to advance and find their place.”

What advice would you offer other Arab Israeli women looking to pursue a career in tech?

“Do it! It will be hard, and you will feel like you don’t fit in or that this path is not for you but, once you are rid of that doubt, you will find that this is what you wanted to do all along.”

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