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November 30, 2020 11:55 am

Panelists at Israel-Dubai Conference: ‘In Banking Sector, There Is No Glass Ceiling for Women’

avatar by Neta Li-Binshtock / CTech

A woman uses an automated teller machine (ATM), outside a Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Nir Elias / File.

CTech – Dozens of businesspeople attended the first Israel-Dubai Conference held by Bank Leumi, Calcalist and Reshet 13, including many senior female executives from a variety of fields. The group held a meeting and discussed the many opportunities in Dubai, and the debate quickly spilled over into a conversation about women and business.

Sivan Shamri-Dahan, Managing Partner of Qumra Capital, spoke of business opportunities. “We are a growth fund that invests in companies that are already on the market and sell on a large scale, so in the startup-aspect there are significant opportunities open to this new market, which was blocked from us. In the areas of cyber and fintech there are great opportunities as well as in commerce. As investors, we can cooperate and bring money to investments in Israel. We are in the early stages of the relationship and we must get to know one another and build trust. Investments are essentially about trust. The journey has begun, we came here with open minds and open hearts,” she said.

Moran Blecher, Partner and co-CEO at the Nextage Fund, added, “We provide financial services to startups at the early stage through the mature stage until they are sold. We have seen mutual interest for cooperation. Many of the people we met are interested in Israeli technology. We are starting to map things out, and at a later stage build cooperation in the fields of smart cities, agritech, and foodtech. Our Emirati counterparts are very straightforward and have told us openly what they want and what they are good at. The delegation helped us get a feeling for how to do business in Dubai, and how to get started.”

Regarding whether women in Israel feel as if there is still a glass ceiling for women to break through to enter senior roles, the opinions among the women in the room remained divided.

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CEO of Tigbur, Orit Benvenisti, said, “There are many women who feel that there is still a glass ceiling. I have a master’s degree in Mathematics Performance Research, and there were only two women in my class. Today, even in 2020, the situation hasn’t changed much. Everything starts with education.”

Manager of the Business Division at Bank Leumi Yael Kfir responded: “I feel that in the banking system there isn’t a glass ceiling anymore. I worked in Bank Leumi with Galia Maor and Rakefet Russak-Aminoach, (two former CEOs of Bank Leumi). Some 60% of the management level is women.”

Dafna Harlev, CEO of the real estate Aviv Group pointed out, “In the private world, it’s entirely different, it’s more difficult and the social conditions aren’t as generous. The private world is more demanding. I didn’t even take maternity leave; I came to work with my babies.”

“I’m in the real estate world, and it’s a man’s world. There are very few women, and most women in senior positions come from the founder’s family. However, there are VPs, and I think that it adds interest and discourse. There are fewer power struggles. There is room for promotions, and in that way more women can grow and take on senior positions. It’s a process that takes time,” she said.

Sigal Bar-On, who is the co-chair of the Dr. Fischer brands, said, “Women must help other women. Our duty is to extend a hand, promote other women, and help them overcome obstacles. Obviously being professional and good at our jobs comes first. Everyone here is part of a group of female entrepreneurs. We need to extend a hand and support any woman, regardless of the path she chooses. Not every woman wants to have a career, and they must be comfortable choosing their own path.”

Reem Younis, co-founder of Nazareth-based company Alpha Omega, which develops and creates medical devices for neurological studies, said, “I agree that it begins with education, the problem is that we are the educators. Usually it’s the women who choose to be educators. The most important thing is that they are happy with the path they have chosen.” She added that it’s important for her to bring investments to companies from the Arab-Israeli sector, in order to help them grow and reach international markets, but also to promote women from the sector. “Many women work for us, although unfortunately many of them work on the production floor.”

Shamri-Dahan added that “it depends on us and our partners. I married later in life, and my husband and I divide the responsibilities. Choosing a partner is also a significant factor. Without that extra help, it’s much more difficult. Traditionally, men are responsible for providing for their families. I was raised on a kibbutz, and my thoughts on the workplace are similar — we must work together.”

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