AP Photo/Armando Franca, File
A couple of months ago, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered for a euphoric concert in Tel Aviv’s main square to celebrate Netta Barzilai’s historic win at the Eurovision 2018 with her hit song “Toy”. Netta’s mesmerizing stage presence is due to her confidence, as much as to the lyrics of her song. “It’s an empowerment song for everybody”, she tells BBC, “for everybody who’s been struggling being themselves – struggling with their bosses, with the government, with someone stepping on them”.
As Israel is trying to figure out just how it’s going to fit 30,000 people into the 10,000-seat convention center in Tel Aviv during the 2019 Eurovision, we take a moment to look at Netta, as someone who admits to always having felt an outsider, and at what her achievement can teach us about the power of diversity and inclusion.
Netta spent her military service in the Israeli Navy Band, a unit which many young Israeli musicians and singers are fighting to get into each year. A band that does more than march to the sound of orchestrated percussion is perhaps not what one would expect to find in the military, but one that exists in the IDF nonetheless. On paper, the role of army bands is to orchestrate national ceremonies and military events. In reality, they are in charge of morale, particularly at times of military operations, during which they typically arrive at the field of combat to play for the fighting soldiers. Other than the fact that Israel’s greatest singers came out of these bands (Gidi Gov, Gali Atari, Dafna Armoni, Yosi Banai, Yardena Arazi, Yehoram Gaon, to mention a few), many of the country’s musical classics originated in bands like the legendary Cheezbatron. These songs are, to this day, an emblem associated with Israel’s greatest wars and battles, and serve as the soundtrack of all national ceremonies and events. The IDF also operates one of the most popular radio stations in Israel, Army Radio (Galei Tzahal), which provides young Israelis with a chance to gain experience in radio journalism, broadcasting, music, and every other aspect related to the operation of a radio station as part of their military service. The fact that artists like Netta can find a home in the army, the unlikeliest of places, is an important lesson in how talent and human capital can and should be applied to different, sometimes completely unexpected sectors of an organization.
Unfortunately, diversity is less widespread in the IDF than we’d like to admit. Although they’ve been serving in various positions in the IDF since its establishment in 1948, the number of women serving as administrative assistants has always been significantly higher than the number of those serving in combat roles, not to mention leadership positions. Israeli women are still struggling to qualify for combat units, for the Special Forces, to the navy, to the air force, and to other key roles.
Not serving in influential positions as men do puts women at a disadvantage when they enter the civilian job market. According to Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, as of 2017, the average income of women is 7,666 ILS, while men’s is 11,219, and of all the privately held businesses in the country only 26% are owned by women.
However, women are fighting for a change in every industry, from the IDF to the tech and business world, and it seems to be working. With the rapid spread of cyber threats, as well as growth in the tech industry, new positions in the IDF and in business organizations need to be filled. The pressing need for an additional pool of talent has opened the doors for different sectors of society, women included, to enter key positions. A case in point is a new program track that opened last September, the J6/C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate program, an all-female class of enlistees. Beyond the cheerful fact that the new track now trains women in a tech-related fields that were unavailable to them in both military and civilian life, it is also a unique way of dealing with a novel, national security problem.
Even more encouraging is the fact that, according to Israel Democracy Institute, since 2012, 92% of all IDF units are open to women, combat positions included. Between 2013 and 2017 the number of female combat fighters has grown by 350%, and there’s been a persistent decrease in the number of women serving as personal assistants and other less powerful positions. This increasing tendency towards diversifying the workforce is also taking over the business and tech world. One recent example comes from Intel Israel, which in 2018 alone recruited 800 women, 90% of which for tech positions.
Of course, the struggle for inclusion is not unique to Israel but is a global phenomenon. This is particularly true in the executive business world where women are somehow still a rarer breed. Only 11% of women in the U.S. are venture capitalists for example. Where they are found, women venture capitalists are already proving extremely beneficial as drivers of change, and as such, a positive disruptive force. To deal with the changes we are experiencing in all business sectors today there is need for such disruption, and there is no better way of disrupting the old than by diversifying.
Diversity hardly needs defending. The more diverse our set of experiences, the more open we are to innovation, the less prone we are to miss out on opportunities, and the more capable we are of solving problems. It is one of the only ways in which businesses can meet the unique needs of clients and investors, who might be coming from different sectors of society. Diversity encourages an open dialogue about differences and as such creates a greater ability to accept change. It goes way beyond gender. It is about strengthening our intellectual capital in order to propel creativity, innovation and new initiatives.
Whether it’s on the stage of the Eurovision contest, in the command center, or in the boardroom, diversity introduces a mixture of voices that would otherwise go unnoticed. Unless they opt for diversity, businesses, as much as military units and stage artists, are running the risk of not knowing their audience, rival, or customer.