Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Achieving Academic & STEM Success

What can a university do to encourage true equality?

The Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading science and technology universities, rang in 2017 with the promotion of its fifth female dean, a record in Israel. It marks another important milestone as the university strives to achieve 50/50 gender equality across its faculty, administration and student body.

As Executive Vice President for the American Technion Society, which supports the Technion in Israel and around the world, I am so proud to be a part of this endeavor — and recently had the opportunity to speak with the pioneering women who are a part of it.

(l-r) Prof. Levenberg, Prof. Dori, Prof.
Aravot, Prof. Machluf and Prof. Chazzan (Photo: Elad Gershgoren)

I asked them: As a woman, what unique perspectives do you bring to the Technion that advances its progress and facilitates its achievements?

They shrugged off the qualifier. “Technion achievements result from fostering excellence,” said Prof. Orit Hazzan, Dean of Undergraduate Studies. “It is not about a specific gender or any other specific characteristic. In this spirit, the Technion enables the success of its faculty members neither as women or men, but, rather, as researchers in science and engineering, providing all of them with the same working conditions.”

All five deans agreed about the need for directed programs to break down societal structures and the culture that have long contributed to the gender gap.

“These efforts should start earlier, at the elementary and high school levels,” said Prof. Yehudit (Judy) Dori, Dean of the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology. “That’s why the Technion encourages young students to visit the university, carry out inquiry-based projects in science and engineering, and participate in summer workshops and competitions in the four STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

“The main idea behind our numerous activities is that at all levels, women appreciate not only exposure to role models, but also networking with other women at similar stages,” said Prof. Ayellet Tal, who holds the Technion’s Alfred and Marion Bar Chair in Engineering and serves as the university’s advisor for advancement of women in science and engineering. “So, in addition to working with middle, high school, undergraduate, graduate, post doc, faculty and alumni throughout the year, we also hold special events that bring everyone together.”

For example, the Technion hosts an annual Tech Women conference, in honor of International Women’s Day, supported by the Rosalyn August Girls Empowerment (GEM) Initiative.

This year, the conference was attended by 700 female high school students studying advanced-level mathematics, science and technology. Like the year before, students visited the Technion and met with female researchers and faculty members, Technion alumnae and female graduate students. They toured the labs in various faculties and received information about research topics and courses of study at the Technion.

“This special day is dedicated to persuading female high school students that they belong here at the Technion. The future of the State of Israel depends on it,” said Technion President Peretz Lavie before the event.

The encouragement is working. Today, the percentage of women among undergraduate students at the Technion is 37%, the percentage of graduate students is 32% and the percentage of doctoral students is 44%. Women leaders and supporters of the American Technion Society have provided funding to support female graduate students and faculty members.

But the university — and its female deans — strive for more. “I want to inspire Ph.D. graduates to pursue a postdoctoral path in world-leading institutions, to prepare them to become faculty and researchers,” said Prof. Yehudit Dori. “For our students, the fact that we are female, that we have families and children and grandchildren, and that we are also at the top of our professions, is a proof that having a STEM career is possible along with leading a family life.”

At the Technion’s annual Lady Tech Conference, given by alumnae to students and fellow graduates, the biggest applause lines this year, during the “Greatest Challenges on the Way to the Top” panel, were: “Believe in yourselves and your gut feelings. Take the lead. Don’t be ashamed — and don’t apologize.”

Sigal Fierst, CEO of CTS Israel and Chairperson of the Technion Alumni Association, summed up the Technion’s vision in her opening remarks at the event: “I believe that 30 years from now, no one will mention the percentage of Technion female graduates, and gender-focused events will no longer be held, because the presence of female graduates will be taken for granted.”

Jeff Richard is the Executive Vice President of the American Technion Society (ATS), the national organization that supports the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading science and technology universities.