FemForward Program Empowers Women In Tech Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict‌FemForward Gives A Boost To High-tech Women In Wartime‌

The sixth FemForward cohort includes 33 participants, chosen out of some 90 applicants. DMITRY POGOSTOV. 
The sixth FemForward cohort includes 33 participants, chosen out of some 90 applicants. DMITRY POGOSTOV. 

By Naama Barak

“Whenever crises occur, the gender gaps always grow and women are pushed to the sidelines even more,” says Ruth Moatti, director of the Israeli career-advancement program FemForward. 

The war raging between Israel and Hamas since October, she notes, is no exception.

“Whether they were away on military reserve duty, or their spouses were, or whether they experienced loss or found themselves at the heart of terror and trauma, there’s no doubt that women have had a lot on their plates – keeping their families together, holding on and maintaining their careers. We didn’t want their career advancement to fall through because of all of this,” she says.

Established in 2020, FemForward seeks to address in Israel a global problem known as the broken rung phenomenon: women getting stuck at entry-level positions because these early-career years coincide with hectic times in their lives. 

“If women don’t advance in the first five to seven years of their careers, then their chances of doing so drop, so women have to make their move when they’re still in the first five years of their career,” Moatti notes. 

“Our statistics show that within six months of completing the program, at least 50 percent of participants report a substantial pay raise or advancement within their organization.” 

33 women

Now in its sixth cohort, FemForward is open to women in junior positions in the high-tech world who seek advancement. It operates under MadeInJLM, a nonprofit organization that connects and provides resources for the tech and startup ecosystem in Jerusalem.

The current cohort is sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and supported by companies such as Microsoft, Mobileye, Lightricks and Monday, with emphasis given to women impacted by the war. 

The cohort’s 33 women, chosen from some 90 applicants, participate in 16 group meetings and four additional ones with mentors tailor-suited to their career paths.

Speaking shortly after a particularly emotional week comprised of Israel’s memorial and independence days, Moatti – an impact advocate from Jerusalem who served four months of reserve duty herself – was astounded at the participants’ enthusiasm.

“We have participants who have been evacuated from the north and the south, lots of women on reserve duty or whose partners are in reserve duty, participants whose siblings have died in the war and others whose families and friends are kidnapped or survivors from Nova,” she says, referring to the music festival in which hundreds were attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7.

“I really didn’t know how fragile their situation would be over that week, and how they’d find the strength to make it and participate. I was sure many of them wouldn’t come, but everyone said that it was like a breath of fresh air for them.”

Moatti says the FemForward meetings are like having “this bubble once a week which is designated for them, for their careers, and they get to be part of a community together with other women who support them. It was very emotional for me to see that at the hardest moments, FemForward helped them keep their heads above the water and be themselves, to see that there’s a positive future and make them feel that they haven’t lost everything.”

Question mark

Adva Shavit, an accountant who’s been displaced from her home in Kibbutz Dan in Israel’s north since the war broke out, intended to return to the corporate financial world after her maternity leave. 

But after October 7, she and her toddler had to relocate to another kibbutz, while her partner was constantly away on military duty.

With all that turmoil, Shavit says, “I needed the mental strength to even start looking for a job. Like all the other evacuees, you keep on living with this big question mark hanging over you. So, first of all, the program provides me with a diversion. Suddenly, I’m doing things that are not only related to the war.” 

Being accepted to FemForward, meeting the strong women there, and the knowledge conveyed on topics such as salary negotiation, motivation, workplace communication, and improving CVs and LinkedIn profiles have brought her out of her comfort zone and given her self-confidence. 

“In my personal experience, managerial meetings will always be comprised mostly of men, and it’s difficult to be one of the only women in the room,” she says.

“And if I’m aiming to be a director or in some influential position in the future, it’s very clear that the more you step up the ladder the fewer women you see around you,” she tells ISRAEL21c. 

“I’m also interested in the combination of motherhood and career. At the end of the day, I live in Kibbutz Dan, and that’s a completely different vibe than what’s happening at FemForward.”

Added value

Another participant in the cohort is Aalaa Bakri, a mechanical engineer from Jerusalem currently helping to establish a new Intel plant in the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Gat. 

With more than 10 years’ experience in the industry, FemForward is the first time she’s participated in an all-female professional forum.

“I never believed in programs dedicated to one gender, but there is power in that,” she says. “All my life, I’ve worked in male-dominant fields, so we don’t share the same struggles or aspirations, or look at things the same way. This is an added value for me, to see such women and goals and inspirations and how they want to move forward in their life.

“In my field – I don’t like to believe it but it’s true – you have to be twice or three times better than your male colleagues to stand out. I want to remove any obstacles that may hinder any progress, and to achieve my goals and new opportunities,” she adds.

In the first three meetings, she said she already learned many things that are making a difference in her daily life, Bakri notes.

“I expect to learn more skills that would help me achieve my next goals and be in positions that would align with my abilities. I can also learn not only soft skills but solid skills that can help careers. Instead of gaining them through trial and error, I’m getting them in a systemized way.”

“And that’s thanks to the ladies in the program and its leaders. It’s not easy in these times to be at these meetings, nor to lead them,” she notes.

Paying it forward

Moatti likes seeing members of FemForward cohorts retain their communal ties after the program is over. 

“The personal and group processes taking place over the three months of the program constitute an accelerator, but the community that’s being created will be there for the years ahead,” she says.

“It’s a community of women, of mutual appreciation and the ability to help one another in the long run. I’d also like them to remember everything that they learned, and that it will continue to serve them when they’re incredible bosses,” Moatti adds.

“We really believe in paying it forward. We’ve had mentors who mentored time and time again, and it won’t take a long time for our participants to become mentors themselves.”

        Produced in association with ISRAEL21c