Creating a high-tech network – for women

By the end of this year, DigitalEve expects to have more than 24,000 members worldwide. In June, a U.S. study revealed that 60 percent of women who work in the high-tech industry would choose another career if they were starting …

By the end of this year, DigitalEve expects to have more than 24,000 members worldwide. In June, a U.S. study revealed that 60 percent of women who work in the high-tech industry would choose another career if they were starting out again. The women interviewed for the survey, which was commissioned by Deloitte & Touche, cited a variety of reasons for their frustration ranging from the glass ceiling, gender bias and stereotyping, to a dearth of female leaders in their field.



While this survey was only carried out in the United States, women in Israel’s high-tech industry are experiencing the same difficulties.



That’s where DigitalEve comes in. This organization, which was set up in Israel at the beginning of the year, is specifically for women involved in the high-tech industry. It is designed as a tool for networking, a kind of “old girl’s network” that can help women meet each other, communicate and share knowledge. Though it can’t solve the problems women in the industry face, it aims to give them a vital competitive edge.



“We’re building a new infrastructure of communication for women that has never existed before,” said Zoe Besserman, 29, art director at Puzzlehead Communication Design and one of the co-chapter leaders of DigitalEve.



So why is networking such an important thing for high-tech women? Examining the background of most Israeli high-tech managers provides the answer. A large percentage comes from the army, and specifically from intelligence units such as Talpiot. It’s one of the most powerful old boy’s networks you can hope to find and for women, who rarely serve in these units, it’s the ultimate brick wall. Nice, Amdocs and Check Point were all set up by graduates of these intelligence units, and in many start-ups top jobs are frequently handed out to friends who served in the same units. In Israel, word-of-mouth recruitment is by far the most common way people find jobs.



It’s all about who you know, not what you know.



“The army is a very important network for high-tech people,” Besserman said. “There are so many graduates of intelligence units working in the industry, and often that’s enough that to get you an interview or a way in.”



Both Besserman and her co-chapter leader, Esther Solomon, 28, a senior consultant at Deloitte & Touche, admit that as new immigrants (Besserman from the United States and Solomon from Great Britain) the task is even harder because they also miss the chance to make connections through school or university.



“It’s important for women to go out and make those connections by themselves,” Solomon said. “Just in the short time that we’ve been running the organization we’ve see the power of the introductions we have managed to create. The organization doesn’t just create support – support seems a very passive word – it’s more the active creation of a network.”



The idea behind DigitalEve came from the United States. In June 2000 three women in Boston and San Francisco decided to found an informal nonprofit organization to give women working in the high-tech industry there a forum to talk about the issues that affected them.



“It was a very dynamic time in high-tech then,” Solomon said. “It was a boom time and there were lots of people entering the industry with a great deal of energy and creativity. Women felt they were in the minority and they wanted a network of their own in which they could hook up with each other and share information and learn new skills.”



The idea took off and within days had grown to 40 members. Five months later membership had risen to 7,000. Today there are more than 20 branches across the United States and Canada, and even branches in Great Britain and Japan. New branches are also underway in Austria, Australia, Holland, Germany and Hong Kong. By the end of this year DigitalEve expects to have more than 24,000 members.



The Israeli branch was set up in January and within 90 days had more than 70 subscribers. Today it has about 160 members. “It’s growing exponentially,” Solomon said. Members come from a range of fields including programming, management, systems administration, public relations, marketing, human resources, customer support and web design.



“We have 160 people from about 150 different companies, it’s a cross-section of all the top names in high-tech,” Solomon said.



At present the organization sets up channels of communications through two main ways: face-to-face meetings and online.



Every month DigitalEve holds an event, often with speakers who share their experience with members. Speakers have included Anna Josse, the London-based managing director of finance boutique Regent Capital Ltd., and the former director of investor relations at Yazam Europe; Pamela Peled, a journalist and Shakespeare scholar; and Noa Barak, manager of high-tech recruitment company Laurence Kane; and The Courage Institute.



Much of the communication takes place through the mailing list, which provides members with news about events, references to interesting resources, and also comments or requests.



Besserman, for example, was looking for a freelance copywriter and sent a request out to the mailing list. “Within six minutes there were 35 quality people I could choose from. I really didn’t expect that. If I had put an advert in a paper I wouldn’t have come close to getting this response,” she said.



One of the advantages of DigitalEve is its international nature. A member of the Israeli branch of DigitalEve could arrive in Boston, or Los Angeles or even Japan, and immediately make contact with key members of the high-tech community there. For someone who is relocating or starting a new business there, it provides an immediate network of contacts with like-minded women, making it an extremely valuable resource.



The organization has many ambitious plans. One of the most interesting is a program of mentoring, which is already operating in some of the larger branches in the US. Under this program women who hold positions of authority are encouraged to mentor women who are lower down on the career path and to give them advice and support.



Both Solomon and Besserman remain clear about their main goal. “We want to promote cooperation,” Besserman said. “We want women to come together to share knowledge and experience. Support and cooperation are vital in Israel right now. We don’t want to create a network that just consists of names on a list. A healthy network works on and off the list. It has its own dynamism, energy and self-sufficiency. We want to see life flowing through DigitalEve.”

About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.