Women strive to realize potential in tech world

April 23, 2019 11:34
Israel offers lessons on how we can boost our development in technology and innovation. Photo: AFP

According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year, Israel ranks second in the world, behind the United States, in terms of venture capital investment, measured as a proportion of the GDP.

CB Insights, a market research agency, also pointed out that over 70 percent of the funds of startup capital in its second largest city, Tel Aviv, come from foreign investors, far ahead of London (44 percent) and Silicon Valley (24 percent). Israel is truly a Startup Nation.

This is the result of the country’s science-based policy. Early in the 1990s, the government reformed its education system. It introduced computer programming in the regular curriculum. Tertiary education is popular: nearly half of the population aged 55 to 64 today has a college degree, the highest percentage among developed countries. The number of its engineers per capita is also matchless.

In such a highly educated country, do women have more opportunities to exert their strengths?

Girls in Israel are more likely to attend universities than boys. It's 57 percent in Israel, compared with 53 percent in Hong Kong. However, according to a study published by OECD in 2017, local women are paid 20 percent less than men in the same position, compared with the organization's median of 14.3 percent. The country's performance in this regard places it in the bottom group.

In the world of startups, the situation is even more worrying. According to a study of more than 20 venture capital funds in Israel, only 30 percent of the invested startups have female founders. Moreover, a survey by Haaretz, a major local newspaper, found that only 7 percent of the executives of technology companies are women.

The general situation is relatively better in Hong Kong. As of last year, women were on the management board of 14 percent of 51 surveyed blue-chip companies in the city.

In early March, the Israeli media interviewed 10 women who are well-known in the local science and technology community. This can serve as an inspiration for their peers in Hong Kong.

These outstanding women include Dr. Kira Radinsky, eBay's director of data science; Limor Shmerling Magazanik, managing director of the Israel Tech Policy Institute; and Yael Rozencwajg, founder and chief executive of Blockchain Israel, the largest blockchain organization in the country.

Radinsky gained international recognition for developing algorithms to predict global crises such as disease outbreaks and political unrest. She said it was necessary to balance “perfecting the solution” and “getting quickly into the market”. That means if things are good enough to bring benefits to people, there is no need to wait till they are perfect before launching them in the market. This reflects the spirit of Israeli’s practical spirit.

Magazanik was named one of the “World’s Top 50 Women in Tech” by Forbes Magazine. She has been working in the high-tech industry in both the public and private sectors for many years, and is an expert in data regulations.

When asked what advice she would have given to her younger self at the time when she was just starting her career, Magazanik answered: "Every day, do something that scares you." Indeed, she dared to make a breakthrough in her career and pursued changes continuously.

Rozencwajg, for her part, said women had not been valued as much as they deserve in the established scientific and technological community.

However, she believes they could play a leading role in the field of blockchain technology, which was born only 10 years ago. As the technology is new, women can compete with men on the same level. She believes that education is still an important means to change gender imparity.

I cannot agree with Rozencwajg more. Women should continue to strive and never give up. I certainly wish to encourage not only women but all those who are fighting to realize their dreams.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong