Ultra-Orthodox women surge as tech entrepreneurs

One of the social, political, and economic challenges facing Israel is how to integrate its large population of pious, strictly observant Jews (called the haredi or ultra-orthodox).  Israel's original government policy – to show respect for religious Jews by exempting them from military service and offering them support for their large families – unfortunately had many unintended negative consequences.  As the population of religious Jews has skyrocketed, it has become untenable.  The growing resentment among secular families for the extra burdens imposed on them were frustrating, with no end in sight.  Israeli society was in a political stalemate.

The answer is not as impossible as it once seemed.  It comes not from government policy, but entirely from private initiative from the haredi themselves.  The answer is entrepreneurship, in which ultra-Orthodox women are taking the lead, founding startups tailored to meet their own needs as mothers of large families.  There are more ultra-Orthodox women in hi tech than secular women.  In the last five years, the number of religious female entrepreneurs in hi tech has jumped from five to over four hundred. 

Bloombergquint reports:

In the haredi community, many women serve as the main caregivers and breadwinners while their husbands focus on Torah study. One result is that entrepreneurship is often a better way for Orthodox female founders to provide for their large families.

"We're taught very early that our role as women is to be the breadwinner," said Sari Roth, 40, chief executive officer of Bontact and a mother of seven. ...

Take office planning: Not every company wants to set up a kosher kitchen or a place where women employees sit apart from men. Bontact, which provides a multichannel messaging platform to 50,000 companies, installed transparent office walls so male and female workers can meet without violating modesty rules.

High numbers of children among haredi women can be a barrier for senior roles in secular-run companies. 

Avital Beck, 35, who has six children and a doctorate in molecular biology, co-founded her company MilkStrip so she could hold a challenging job and have flexible hours to spend time with her children. 

"Because most senior jobs in the tech industry are so inflexible, it just made sense to found my own company," Beck said. 

Similarly, Tikva Schmidt, a software systems architect with 10 children, founded TIDE Technology, an outsourcing firm offering software architecture and development solutions, to provide high-level jobs for haredi women, while allowing them to raise their children.

In the data base of Kamatech, a venture backed by the U.S. government and private money that aims to get more ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel's technology industry, around 40 percent of the 1,100 entrepreneurs listed are women – up from just five in 2012.

"I speak at a lot of meet-ups and technology events, and the only time I looked around the room and saw as many women as men was at a Kamatech event," said Adi Soffer Teeni, general manager of Facebook Inc. in Israel.

Both male and female haredi Jews gravitate toward math, science, and technology, as these subjects are more compatible with their religious values and their practical family needs for income than a liberal arts education. 

Large families and a close-knit, functioning community provide practical support to mothers who want to work.

The haredi world offers more support to women entrepreneurs, especially in terms of childcare, Margalit said. 

"I absolutely needed help from the family," she said. "My husband had to be recruited, and also my mother and sister."

This leadership role for women in busienss is not a break with Jewish culture or religion; it is a direct affirmation of the Shabbath blessing, from Proverbs 31, recited every Friday night by a Jewish husband in honor of his wife, called Woman of Valor.  The poem reads, "A woman of valor who can find, for her price is beyond pearls" and not only describes her loving heart and charity, but also shows her hard at work as an entrepreneur.  "She contemplates a field and purchases it; from the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard."

She is like the trading ships, bringing food from afar. 
She gets up while it is still night to provide food for her household, and a fair share for her staff. 
She considers a field and purchases it, and plants a vineyard with the fruit of her labors. 
She invests herself with strength and makes her arms powerful.

She senses that her trade is profitable; her light does not go out at night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff and her palms hold the spindle. 
She opens her hands to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. 
She has no fear of the snow for her household, for all her household is dressed in fine clothing.

This is a wonderful case of how the most successful innovative solutions, even to complex and seemingly intractable societal conflicts, arise from free enterprise and individual initiative.

One of the social, political, and economic challenges facing Israel is how to integrate its large population of pious, strictly observant Jews (called the haredi or ultra-orthodox).  Israel's original government policy – to show respect for religious Jews by exempting them from military service and offering them support for their large families – unfortunately had many unintended negative consequences.  As the population of religious Jews has skyrocketed, it has become untenable.  The growing resentment among secular families for the extra burdens imposed on them were frustrating, with no end in sight.  Israeli society was in a political stalemate.

The answer is not as impossible as it once seemed.  It comes not from government policy, but entirely from private initiative from the haredi themselves.  The answer is entrepreneurship, in which ultra-Orthodox women are taking the lead, founding startups tailored to meet their own needs as mothers of large families.  There are more ultra-Orthodox women in hi tech than secular women.  In the last five years, the number of religious female entrepreneurs in hi tech has jumped from five to over four hundred. 

Bloombergquint reports:

In the haredi community, many women serve as the main caregivers and breadwinners while their husbands focus on Torah study. One result is that entrepreneurship is often a better way for Orthodox female founders to provide for their large families.

"We're taught very early that our role as women is to be the breadwinner," said Sari Roth, 40, chief executive officer of Bontact and a mother of seven. ...

Take office planning: Not every company wants to set up a kosher kitchen or a place where women employees sit apart from men. Bontact, which provides a multichannel messaging platform to 50,000 companies, installed transparent office walls so male and female workers can meet without violating modesty rules.

High numbers of children among haredi women can be a barrier for senior roles in secular-run companies. 

Avital Beck, 35, who has six children and a doctorate in molecular biology, co-founded her company MilkStrip so she could hold a challenging job and have flexible hours to spend time with her children. 

"Because most senior jobs in the tech industry are so inflexible, it just made sense to found my own company," Beck said. 

Similarly, Tikva Schmidt, a software systems architect with 10 children, founded TIDE Technology, an outsourcing firm offering software architecture and development solutions, to provide high-level jobs for haredi women, while allowing them to raise their children.

In the data base of Kamatech, a venture backed by the U.S. government and private money that aims to get more ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel's technology industry, around 40 percent of the 1,100 entrepreneurs listed are women – up from just five in 2012.

"I speak at a lot of meet-ups and technology events, and the only time I looked around the room and saw as many women as men was at a Kamatech event," said Adi Soffer Teeni, general manager of Facebook Inc. in Israel.

Both male and female haredi Jews gravitate toward math, science, and technology, as these subjects are more compatible with their religious values and their practical family needs for income than a liberal arts education. 

Large families and a close-knit, functioning community provide practical support to mothers who want to work.

The haredi world offers more support to women entrepreneurs, especially in terms of childcare, Margalit said. 

"I absolutely needed help from the family," she said. "My husband had to be recruited, and also my mother and sister."

This leadership role for women in busienss is not a break with Jewish culture or religion; it is a direct affirmation of the Shabbath blessing, from Proverbs 31, recited every Friday night by a Jewish husband in honor of his wife, called Woman of Valor.  The poem reads, "A woman of valor who can find, for her price is beyond pearls" and not only describes her loving heart and charity, but also shows her hard at work as an entrepreneur.  "She contemplates a field and purchases it; from the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard."

She is like the trading ships, bringing food from afar. 
She gets up while it is still night to provide food for her household, and a fair share for her staff. 
She considers a field and purchases it, and plants a vineyard with the fruit of her labors. 
She invests herself with strength and makes her arms powerful.

She senses that her trade is profitable; her light does not go out at night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff and her palms hold the spindle. 
She opens her hands to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. 
She has no fear of the snow for her household, for all her household is dressed in fine clothing.

This is a wonderful case of how the most successful innovative solutions, even to complex and seemingly intractable societal conflicts, arise from free enterprise and individual initiative.