Fintech company Finastra-Israel brings Druze female programmers to the forefront
“What’s beautiful is that we’ve created a beautiful community of women who’ve dreamed big,” says head of Druze female boot camp on shattering stereotypes and encouraging workplace diversity
Yafit Ovadia | 10:07 10.01.2021
As the tech workforce grows, it is expanding to incorporate and properly reflect different parts of Israeli society. As part of those efforts, British fintech company Finastra, which is the third-largest of its kind in the world and works with several global banks, has aimed to make diversity a part of its platform. Finastra’s Israel branch, based in Kfar Saba, works with some of the leading global players and helps process payments online, totaling some $20 trillion every day. Those include major U.S. banks Goldman Sachs, Citibank and Bank of America, U.K. groups Barkley’s, Lloyd’s, and HSBC, as well as other major South African, Brazilian, and Australian banks. Finastra aims to make diversification more than simply a slogan and has implemented this idea by incorporating people from across a diverse spectrum, including Jewish ultra-Orthodox women who work in its development teams, LGBTQ+ employees who joined under the umbrella campaign of LGBT Tech, and most recently, seven religious Druze female programmers from the small community of Daliyat el-Karmel in northern Israel.
A female Druze programmer works in the Lotus hub's shared office space. Photo: Maysa Halabi AlsheikhWas it particularly hard being a woman of faith - something that perhaps your community looked down upon - as having women enter this fast-paced workforce? “Well, we did receive a blessing from the Druze religious leaders. On one hand, we wanted to preserve our religious traditions and identity, while on the other we wanted to expand our future and reach fields that might clash with those beliefs, such as tech. We wanted to combine the two and make it possible for women of our faith to adhere to tradition, and still integrate into the sector.” She explained that the Druze population in Israel is made up of some 140,000 people, and comprises 1.4% of the Israeli population. However, because of strict religious adherences and observing tradition, women typically can’t pursue separate areas to study outside of traditional gender-specific subjects such as education. In accordance with the Druze faith, women aren’t encouraged to work outside of the village. These women that Lotus has recruited score particularly high in areas such as mathematics and English, yet can’t study in university. “There aren't many opportunities to choose from or break into,” she said. So you created a solution for that? “Yes. I thought of how we have so many talented women here, yet that talent is being wasted,” she said and added. “I’d always read articles on Calcalist saying how there weren’t enough female programmers out there, and I asked myself why we couldn’t fill that gap? Why couldn’t we work in those fields? The Israel Innovation Authority has plenty of opportunities to help women enter the workforce, and I’ve met some amazing women that way who have encouraged me.” Rami Schwartz from the Portland Trust was one of those people who helped form Lotus, his organization strives to help weak populations and close social gaps. The foundation helped build and construct the office workspace in northern Israel, and is focused on enhancing economic opportunities for Arab and Jewish ultra-Orthodox societies, as well as other periphery communities. The Portland Trust also crafted the professional program from the candidates screening, toward training and finally integrating the women in leading high tech firms with a personal on-boarding program for each woman. This careful process results in a 100% retention rate of the women in their positions. The program is in its fourth month and has educated some 29 Druze women to be full-stack developers. “In the beginning it was hard. We had to go around our town and knock on people’s doors. We even asked them to be volunteers. In the beginning, we had nothing, just a dream. Once we started our boot camp, things really started to pick up,” she said. “We knew we needed to make women a place that they could work in and feel safe. Some 40% of them are even mothers, yet the common denominator among them is that they love technology and aren’t afraid of changes.” So is Lotus just a training camp and then the women are off on their own? “No, Lotus is a hub that accompanies these women after boot camp. Within those eight months, we have a sort of learning marathon of the hottest topics in programming and computer science. We also incorporate academia. We want to make sure that the women in our group can offer a strong tech advantage for tech companies. Our hub doesn’t only train and help women join companies, it also helps them after they get accepted. We are a sort of social buttress for these women, a safe space if you will. While we are a nonprofit, we do receive donations and funding from the Israeli government.”
The Lotus hub's open work space provides religious Druze women with a safe place to work remotely for high tech companies. Photo: Gali SegevIt can be incredibly difficult as a woman to adhere to religious faith while working in a male-dominated field. It’s also hard to “stray from the fray” especially for religious women of many faiths where modesty and humility are important values, yet aren’t necessarily accepted or embraced by the corporate world. What is your message to religious women out there who want to break into these types of sectors? “First of all, I think it goes without saying that these are things that religious women, of any faith, struggle with. I remind myself daily that as women we choose to be religious. Our faith is important to us. It definitely becomes much easier when you have a like-minded community around you supporting you. We’re doing it together, we’re talking about these things with other women. But, I can say that sometimes feeling strange or unaccepted by male peers is legitimate. However, the Israeli community is embracing us in this aspect despite the social and cultural gaps.” “It’s usually very difficult for young Arab girls to learn how to say no, and now we know what we must do or say in the workplace. It’s difficult for us because we’re very modest and it’s hard for us to express ourselves. Now, with Lotus, we have more security, and more self-confidence to be able to express ourselves in the workplace.” She added that Lotus has incorporated some traditional Muslim women as well, although religious Muslim women have yet to join. “We want women to enter the high tech workforce together, it makes them feel more secure. We’re also giving our children better education, we’re showing them that women can enter the workforce.”
"The goal is ultimately to establish a robust high tech Hub, so that every talented young woman in the community will know she has a bright future once she exploits her potential," she said.So what is your message to women in the corporate world in general? “Women should be successful in these fields, and I want to let them know that they’re not alone. We’re stronger as a community when we’re together. We’re also making a better future for the next generation. And you’ll inspire other girls to be like you when they grow up.”