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Israeli Army Wants More Women in Technology

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

January 17, 2017

Female soldiers in an army computer course (Photo: IDF)
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Providing lighter tool kits, hoses on wheels

When Emily Farid finished high school, most of her female friends were drafted into the Israeli army for their two years of compulsory service. She, however, decided to follow a different path.

She went straight to Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, and finished last year with a double degree in material and mechanical engineering. Now she is in officers’ training school, and when she finishes she will serve six years in the army – three in compulsory service, with a low entry-level salary, and three in the career army, with a higher salary.

She will be serving in a technology unit dealing with chemical materials and experimentation.

“I will have a lot of responsibility at a very young age,” Farid told The Media Line. “I think I can develop myself in the army both professionally and personally – more than I could in civilian life.”

She is part of a program called “atuda” that sends promising young recruits to college to get a degree before they join the army. Of the 1100 who sign on to this program to study everything from medicine to engineering to law, about 20 percent are women, says Lt. Col. Yuval Greenberg, head of human resources and planning for Atuda Academic Program. The goal in the next few years is to increase that to 30 percent.

“The army has a defined need for more people in technology – engineers, scientists, academic graduates from mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry,” Greenberg told The Media Line. “Women have total equality in these units – your success and your promotion is based only on your personal skills, you technological knowledge and your ability to work in a team.”

All Jewish Israelis, both men and women, are drafted, women for two years, and men for two years and eight months. Arab citizens of Israel are not drafted, although they can volunteer. In addition, most ultra-Orthodox men and women do not serve, and some modern-Orthodox women choose national service in schools and hospitals over army service.

Overall, about half of all eligible men and women serve in the army. For men, the most prestigious jobs are in combat units or elite, often secret units. For women, the most prestigious jobs are in intelligence or in technology units.
Greenberg said that all new recruits coming into the army are tested for both technological adeptness and maturity, and women often score higher than men. However, as in the academic world as well as the military, women are often hesitant to enroll in courses that demand a lot of math and science.

In Emily Farid’s case, she said, she was the only woman among ten recruits doing the same degree. She says she too believes that women have some advantages in these roles.

“Women are more organized and everyone knows women are better at multi-tasking,” she said. “What maeks a good offer is someone who has good relations with people, and women often have this.”

The army is taking women like Farid to high schools to speak to young women there. They are developing a number of programs to encourage high school students, especially women, to study technology.

Lior Dariel, 24, is the head of a computer programming course, who did her BA while she was in the army.

“In my course, about one-third of the recruits are girls,” she told The Media Line. “I can’t say that boys are better than girls but many times they are more interested. From a young age, boys play more on the computer, but that is changing and in a few years I hope the course will be half female.”

Military officials say that they are committed to opening as many jobs to women as possible. Major Anna Lavi, the head of the combat assignment desk, said that of the 920 jobs in the army, only about 120 are closed to women, all for physiological reasons.

Beyond the computer and technology jobs, there is a need for thousands of mechanics, technicians and other support staff for Israeli planes, armored vehicles and tanks. Here as well, the Israeli army is doing whatever it can to encourage more women to join.

“If there was a heavy ladder that had to moved, we changed it to lighter metal to encourage women to take on these jobs,” Lavi told The Media Line. “If there was a heavy pipe that had to be dragged to refuel a plane, we put it on wheels and made it easier to move.”

The army even fashioned lighter tool kits for mechanics to help more women take on these roles.

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