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women leaders in the business world – it’s everyone’s business!!

This session at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in NYC, on 17 March 2016 was sponsored by the UN delegations from Israel, Cyprus and by WePower. Donna Gary reports. 

This program was extremely well received and sophisticated in presentation. The panel was a group of particularly distinguished individuals.

Opening remarks:

Ambassador Danny Danon, Israel  opened by defining a start-up as being willing to bring a dream to reality; bold ideas, talent, creativity and innovation.  Israel has the most start-ups per person in the world.  Most of the major tech companies have offices in Israel and many, like Intel, are headed women. Other successful examples of women in top leadership currently are the head of Bank of Israel, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Facebook in Israel.   Girls can dream in Israel with no limits.  Israel wants to spread that message to all girls; to share the vision for girls not only in the Middle East but globally.

Ambassador Nicholas Emilou, Cypress  stressed that despite progress, no country has reached gender equality.  Cypress has had significant progress but there is still a low level of women at decision making levels.  He attested to the major contribution of women in Cypress and Israel to society, emphasizing their work during times of trouble.

Gila Gamliel, MK and Israel’s Minister for Social Equality  began with statistics that only 35% of women go into the tech field in Israel.  Women head 10% of the tech companies. The Digital Israel Project will train for better jobs and more women in technology.  Tech is the backbone of the Israeli economy.  Equal opportunity for all citizens makes a stronger Israel.

Panel Discussion:

Moderator Kristin Hetle, Director for Strategic Partnerships at UN Women  stated “Gender equality is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do.”

Maxine Fassberg, General Manager, Intel Israel Ltd.   spoke of the pipeline to science and tech at the high school level.  Intel employs 10,000 in Israel, making it the largest employer in Israel.  Intel is investing $300M to reach gender parity.  Women think and solve problems differently than men.  “We need to understand it and use it.”  Their strategy includes involving all high school girls from all sectors of Israel.  From that base, 11% have Intel mentors who meet their needs, whatever it takes – even childcare.  They have a hiring bonus for friends who bring friends and double it if the friend hired is a female.  They are continually raising women in management positions.  Currently 40% of management of their largest factory is female.  They have family friendly benefits for employees.  Having women serve on hiring committees is critical in order to change perceptions of women. Affirmative Action is harmful!  A level playing field is needed.


KikoulaCotsapas, Chair, KEAN SOFT DRINKS LTD  shared that Cypress was established in 1960.  Universities accepted women and they become more independent.  When the war came, women became the breadwinners and created businesses.  If the government doesn’t use 50% of the workforce, it is painful for the future.   “Women are different but equal.”

Liel Even Zohar, CEO, WePower  began by forcefully stating “Women, let us all stand and mourn the death of the guilt feelings!”  Guilt is a universal feeling for women.  Israel is 51% women.  However, females are 26% of the Knesset, 18% of the Board of Directors of public companies and 2% Mayors.  The discussion needs to be reframed.  The decisions are not made at the Board table but in the corridors.  Leadership is taken, not given.  An experiment conducted on women’s self-identification as leaders exposed that amongst a few choices such as BORN TO LEAD, SHARED LEADERSHIP, etc. – women chose SHARED LEADERSHIP which is a weak, soft description.  A stronger identifier was developed to which all women can unite: YesWeLead.

Michal Alter, Founder & CEO,  created this innovative travel booking platform for impactful, immersive travel experiences which benefit the local communities visited financially and with other opportunities.  You can make your own coffee in Guatemala, for example.  Locals share their own stories.  The opportunities are all vetted.  Her background is extremely interesting as she was one of the first female pilot cadets in the Israeli Air Force and a Computer Science Engineer.  One of her many positions was Director of Refugee Affairs for Tel Aviv, where she led social service delivery and programming for 20,000 refugees from Darfur, South Sudan and Eritrea.

In summary  , the extraordinary panel of highly accomplished women provided insights and inspiration. Both vision and tactics were shared.