“ORT put me in charge,” says young woman hi-tech engineer

"ORT put me in charge," says young woman hi-tech engineer Thanks to the dynamic ORT Educational Network, more 21st Century women will be able take their places in tomorrow's technological world.

Fastest Growing Phenomenon in 21st Century Technology: The Woman

ORT Israel Educational Network Launches New Program to
Bring Its Young Women Students into the Realm of High Technology

"The participation of women in the workforce has improved immeasurably during the 20th century," says Yael Rom, Director of this innovative ORT project, "particularly in areas formerly considered all-male. I'm not speaking about jobs dependent on physical strength, but rather on those involving emotional and mental power. People may think that it is difficult for a young woman to operate a bulldozer, but they have no doubt that she can design one."

Yes. And computers. And communications systems. And medical electronic instrumentation. And navigation systems. You name it., a woman can probably do it - and do it as well as or better than her male counterpart. This is the guiding principle behind ORT's all-out campaign "ORT Young Women in the 21st Century."

Between December 1996 and February 1997, the ORT Israel Educational Network carried out a project involving thought, examination and deliberation concerning the components of all activities in which the Network was involved. More than 500 people - principals, headquarters personnel, teachers, parents and students, along with outside advisors - took part in the project. One of the basic precepts arising from the study: Technology desperately needs a vastly increased workforce - and the ORT Network's bright young women can provide the solution.

This revelation brought about an executive decision by ORT:

The ORT Network will encourage women to plan careers in the advanced technological and scientific professions by instituting a system of screening and fostering promising young women in its schools; it will work with the IDF and a variety of potential employers to create worthwhile and attractive career tracks for these young women.

Monumental Decision

The result of this decision is an intervention program for bringing young women into the sciences and technologies to serve Israel's needs in the 21st century. Indeed, the impact on the nation's economic and military sectors will be monumental. The present drastic shortage of engineers and technicians, inexorably increasing, should be halted and reversed during the first decade of the new millennium. While the opening of new colleges of technology and other Israeli educational measures will provide some relief for the situation until that time, it is anticipated that the real growth in qualified personnel will take place about 2010. At that time, the girls (and boys as well -- we must remember that young men are also being recruited for the program) who are now starting Junior High School will have completed their secondary studies, served in the Israel Defense Forces, received their diplomas in advanced technology, and been integrated into the fabric of technological and scientific life in Israel.

The program is configured to involve not just the youngsters and their parents (on the shoulders of whom falls the final decision "... secretary, carpenter - or engineer?"), but to bring into the picture an integrated team of professionals in every field from teachers to psychologists to industrialists. There are three major objectives to the implementation of the "21st Century" Program in the junior and senior high schools:

  1. Locating and selecting pupils capable of a handling a more challenging science and technology program in Junior High school, and of subsequently succeeding in math, physics and technology in High School at a level of 5 Study Units.
  2. Applying a guidance and counseling program to encourage these students all through school, particularly at those junctures where significant decisions must be made.
  3. Creating and maintaining longitudinal computerized history and followup programs which will provide a predictive data base for outreach, serving the program in future years as a source of appropriate human resources to be recruited into the Junior High program upon "graduation" from elementary school.

All Out Investment

In order to execute the program with maximum success, it has been designed as a joint effort integrating all of the people who can have a positive effect on student achievement. These include not only the teachers responsible for the didactic work, but also the parents and older siblings who will encourage the youngsters and help smooth out the difficult spots; outstanding older students who will tutor them during the year and conduct small-group reinforcement sessions during school holidays; industrialists and military officers who will familiarize the young people with the professional world, encouraging them through excursions to plants and facilities, one-on-one or small-group meetings with engineers and scientists in their workplaces; and counselors/advisors both in the school and outside of it.

The cooperative effort among all the people will not be without its costs in time, effort and money. Teachers will have to have advanced training courses to update them on the educational requirements of the selected pupils and prepare them for dealing with the potential problems of the participating youngsters. Peer teachers (11th-12th graders) will be trained to work with pupils in the 8th-10th grades without giving way to the frustrations inherent in tutoring. Those who cooperate in the program must be made aware of the extent of their involvement and of the time and funds they will have to invest in it.

ORT's first year investment in the project is in the vicinity of half a million dollars. While there are no available figures for the costs assumed by the Government and the military-industrial organization, the outlay could easily reach ten times that figure.

Is the game worth the candle?

"Yes, definitely!" says Dr. Eli Eisenberg, Deputy Director General of ORT Israel. "If we don't take measures now - today - to stem the ebbing tide of technological people in Israel, we will shortly find ourselves deposed from our position of leadership in science and technology and relegated to the ranks of those countries dependent upon the success and development of the nations upcoming in these fields.

In today's dynamic workforce, women play a major role as CEOs and other high executives in areas which were formerly considered the male Holy of Holies: Director of Israel's largest Internet Service Provider; Director of Science-Based Industry at the Ministry of Industry and trade; Head of Knesset committees; Director of the Israel Standards Institute; and many, many similar positions."

No Gimmicks

Eisenberg is adamant about the seriousness of this effort. "Two or three years ago, we tried to attract women into the high-tech professions with advertising gimmicks. It failed. It lacked dignity and purpose. It did not belong to the educational milieu.

Yael Rom, originator of the project and the brain behind it: "Are women capable of such a radical change? I have never doubted our intellectual abilities, which are as good as - and in some cases better than - those of men. Lord knows there are enough research papers around to prove it. In brain power vis-?-vis muscle power, women have the edge, and 21st-century engineering will be hungry for brain power.

"Does that sound like a feminist attitude? It isn't. It is a humanistic verisimilitude. There are alternatives, like there are during a landing approach in aviation - you can do it visually or come sliding down a radio beam, but either way the skill of the pilot is the last word."

What's all this talk of flying? Nothing to do with Erica Jong, be assured. Yael Rom was the first woman pilot to be trained by the Israel Air Force, and the first in the world to graduate from a regular military flying school. She flew for the IAF from 1951 until her retirement from the Israel Defense Forces in 1961. In wartime, as a Reserves officer during the 1956 Sinai campaign, she flew the lead plane of the Transport Wing - a DC-3 Dakota, packed with young paratroopers, putting her boys down safely exactly where they were supposed to be.

In 1957, following the Sinai Campaign, Yael Rom was invited to become First Officer in Arkia Airlines, Israel's "second" scheduled airline. In 1960, Yael was snapped up by the Technion - Israel University of Technology, where she developed several academic support services for under-represented groups: minorities, physically handicapped and veterans. The programs have been extremely successfull and won recognition in Israel as well as abroad through published articles & oral presentations in conferences. Yael Rom's work has had an indelible effect on the lives of those young people whom she influenced. Today, hundreds of her young charges are captains of Israel's high-tech industries.

Applying the same methods for moving more young women tawards careers in Science & Technology started in 1984 under contracts with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the I.D.F.

Yael's latest brainchild is a program which in Hebrew is ponderously entitled ORT to the 21st Century - Young Women Towards Careers in Advanced Technologies and Physical Sciences. She shortens it to ORT Women 121.

ORT Women 121

Yael's initiative provided the concept for the present program as early as 1988-89, when she designed a model and conducted it with success in the huge ORT Kiryat Bialik Educational Complex in the suburbs of Haifa. Using knowledge and new methodology which were by-products of the original experiment, she expanded and improved the program to the point where it has been approved as a three-year project starting with eleven schools throughout the country in 1997-98, and expanding over the next several years.

Having left retirement to mastermind ORT Women 121, Yael will be serving as its Director for the next three years, simultaneously filling the post of ORT's "Women in Technology" advisor. As the project matures, new program directors will be appointed in each of the participating schools.

As the project ripens, Yael's role will change from overall director to trainer of new directors, and finally as adviser and evaluator.

Public Council for ORT Women 121
Allon, Ruth CEO, Netvision Ltd.,
leading Internet Service
Almog, Col. Hedva (Res.) Chair, Haifa Naamat
Alterman, Prof. Rachel Womens Affairs Advisor
to Technion President
Brauner, Prof. Naima Chair, Engineering Admission
s Committee, Tel Aviv
Chacham, Ora Chair, Guidance Council
for Future Professions
Eilat, Elhanan Director, Tel Aviv School
of Practical Engineering
Fadal, Prof. Mansour Research Center, Volcani
Agricultural Institute
Gal-Or, Dr. Leah Director, Corrosion
Laboratory, Technion
Metallurgical Institute
Gechtmann, Dr. Valentina Director, Human Resources
Planning Authority,
Gutman, Dr. Hilda Director, Science-based
Industry Auth., Min.
of Industry & Trade
Kedar, Tamar Director General, Israel
ORT Women
Kleiman, Co. Nimrod Chair, Long-term Planning,
Manpower Branch, IDF
Maor, Anat, M.K. Chair, Committee for
Advanceof Women in the
Masalaha, Dr. Taha Physics Coordinator,
Arab Educ. College in
Nemirovsky, Prof. Yael Chair, Microelectronics
Reserch Center, the
Parness, Prof. Yitzhak Chair, National Research
Development Council
Patir, Ziva CEO, The Israel Standards
Peridor, Rina Director of Nurture
Project, Min. of Industry
& Trade
Sagan, Nava PIC Equality Between
the Sexes, Tech. Dept.,
Min. of Education
Schwartz, Mira Chair, Womens Forum,
Israel Manufacturers
Shevi, Eliahu Deputy Mayor of Ashkelon
for Engineering and
Tomer, Dvorah President, Israel ORT
Toren, Prof. Nina School of Business Admin.,
Hebrew University of

In the meanwhile, Excelsior! Serious things are happening, and happening quickly. A Public Council has been formed by Haim Ben-Ami, ORT Director General and nominal head of the project, comprising 25 women and men from the fields of High-Tech Industry, Research & Development, and Academia (see sidebar, left). All of them have, recently or in the past, expressed the desire to - and the dire necessity to - promote higher education for under-represented sectors of the population, particularly women in Technology and Engineering.

Intensive Director Training

Eleven schools have been selected from among ORT's High Schools to implement the program over the next three years.

Two trainees were selected from each of the schools. One is the school's Coordinator of Math Teaching, who will serve as overall administrator of the program in his school; the second will be another teacher of Mathematics who will be trained to run the Peer Teaching Program.

As the implementation of the program expands, teacher training will increase concomitantly. By the year 2000, there will probably be 26 ORT Schools and over 100 teachers involved in running the intervention program. The country's smaller technological education networks are extremely likely to initiate similar programs of their own, using the precepts and principles so painstakingly developed by Yael Rom and implemented by ORT Israel.

Other Sectors Involved

While the primary targets for the 121 program are women, there are a number of other sectors in the Israel population pool which can be tapped to provide the much-needed brainpower Israel's high-tech industries will have to have over the next few years. While ORT Women 121 is still in its developmental stages, ORT will undoubtedly not neglect the other under-represented sectors: the Arab-Druse sector, the Orthodox Yeshiva Community and the physically handicapped.

Although the foregoing and other sectors of Israel's population have the potential to integrate themselves into the mainstream of the Israeli technological revolution, we must not lose sigh of the fact that the ORT Women 121 program - and the young women it affects - are the crux of this article.

Can Women Do It?

"Yes!" says Yael Rom unequivocally. "On the average, women's scores in psychological tests are equal to or slightly better than those of men from parallel socioeconomic groups. Furthermore, the women are doing something with their intelligence, since the levels of education among Israeli women are higher than those of men. It is no surprise that there are more and more Israeli women entering University to study the Free Professions - Law, Medicine, Accounting, Psychology - every day, and in most of these faculties already outnumber men. Look at the women on the Public Council: Chief Executive Officers, Directors and Directors General, both in technology and out of it. Although their percentages at the very top are still small, women are certainly in the pipeline in ever-growing numbers.

"The real questions," Ms. Rom continues, "are 'Why have women not chosen careers in Technology and Engineering until now?' and 'How can we turn them around?' In my opinion, it is the male-dominated image and work environment of the technology professions that is turning women away. But it's only a matter of time," she goes on, "and not too much time, before this situation disappears because of the high demand for highly-trained brain power. It will be incumbent on employers to create a female-friendly work environment if they want to attract the best."

A Matter of Being Informed

The key to the success of the entire program is making eminently clear to students and parents alike exactly what the future can hold for a bright young woman. Unhappily, there are still a lot of parents who urge their daughters to prepare for a "safe, sure and steady" job: secretary, nurse, graphic artist. They are totally unaware of the potential of their young women - not cognizant of the fact that far more of them are capable of and qualified for advanced math and physics than actually register for and study in these tracks in High School.

Very often, teachers, counselors and school principals attempt to "sell" young women on engineering and technology: the professions, the prerequisites, the work environment, the career opportunities. But "marketing" potential career opportunities to high school pupils is only unwrapping the parcel. They must be made aware that the key to success in these fields is academic preparedness in the aforesaid prerequisites. Therefore, screening young women for ability is the linchpin of the Program; once they can see the proof of their talents before them in black and white and have become comfortable with the fact that they are good at math, convincing them of career opportunities in the math- and physics-related technological professions will be a piece of cake.

Haim Ben-Ami, Director General of ORT Israel: "Israel's young women comprise this nation's greatest untapped natural resource for high-tech industries and services. In the next decade or so, we will see the tide of technology turning, rolling back over itself to engulf these women, whom it has until now been unable to move. We have no gold in the ground, nor diamonds, nor oil - but we have women. Because of ORT Women 121 and other similar programs, we are on the threshold of the greatest socioeconomic revolution ever to take place here. We are not trying to remove women from their God-given right to home and motherhood; but we are giving them the opportuniy to have the best of all possible worlds. They, in return, will bring Israel into the 21st century as a world power in technology and science."

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