Israel may be the Start-Up Nation, but women are severely underrepresented in its hi-tech workforce; according to the Labor and Social Services Ministry, they are “the most underrepresented group” in the industry.

There is, according to research conducted by the ministry, a serious shortage of women among programmers, with women representing only one in four coders.

And so, the ministry in collaboration with the “She Codes” community of women in technology has launched a NIS 20 million initiative to address the shortage of female representation in the industry.

The project aims to train some 4,440 women within three years and incorporate over half of them into hi-tech positions as coders.

Participants will be taught to write code in programming languages that are in high demand and that can lead to high paying jobs.

Additionally, female mentors in leading industry roles will accompany the participants and provide career counseling and job placement assistance.

“Professionalism in hi-tech is key to rewarding integration into the employment cycle under improved conditions,” Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz said of the initiative.

“We will provide every woman with quality training, guidance and support until placement in the best job,” he said, adding that this comes “in the hope that within a few years we will see in the hi-tech industry female representation that is at least identical to men’s.”

According to research conducted by the ministry, 47% of high school students taking the five unit (highest level) matriculation exam in mathematics in 2014 were girls. However, in 2015, post-high school, these women comprised only 30% of students enrolled in hi-tech college and university programming studies – a proportion that has remained unchanged for more than 20 years – and only some 26% of the programmers in Israel’s hi-tech industry.

The ministry said these figures show that “the most significant barrier to the integration of women in today’s programming roles in the industry is the lack of interest or aversion to studies, technological occupations and programming.”

Only 11.6% of those scoring in the top quartile of women on the psychometric exam (university entrance exam) choose to study for hi-tech degrees, compared with 31.8% of those in the top quartile of men.

The initiative will also focus on persuading young women who have yet to enroll in academic studies, to pursue degrees in hi-tech fields, such as computer science, electrical engineering, and data system engineering.

The goal is to get some 180 of the graduates of the project to pursue academic degrees in these fields.

The ministry added that it hopes the venture will serve as a meeting place for women of different backgrounds and provide a venue to develop independent technological projects and new start-ups.

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