EEOC 10th Anniversary: Status of Employment Diversity and Eq...

EEOC 10th Anniversary: Status of Employment Diversity and Equality in Israel

June 1, 2018

EEOC 10th Anniversary: Status of Employment Diversity and Equality in Israel

In June 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a 10th anniversary conference at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. The conference focused on the status of efforts to advance employment diversity in Israel, covering trends, barriers, and goals. It included discussion of findings from the EEOC’s diversity index, reports on EEOC activity related to Israel’s Arab society, results of research on educational inequalities in Israel, and insights from major employers on the value and challenges of diversity hiring. The main issues discussed at the conference are summarized below.

The EEOC has been headed since 2016 by Adv. Mariam Kabha, the National Commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunities and the highest-ranking Arab woman in Israel’s government.

The EEOC and the 2017 Diversity Index

At the conference, findings were presented from the EEOC and Central Bureau of Statistics' Diversity Index: Representation and Wages in the Private Labor Market and Academic for 2017, a comprehensive survey of representation and wage equality among underrepresented groups in Israel's labor market: women, Arabs, Haredim, Ethiopians, and individuals 45 and older. The Index was launched and published for the first time in 2016, and confirmed long-held perceptions that Arabs comprise a disproportionate number of employees in lower-paid jobs and are underrepresented in higher-skilled positions.

Additionally, the significant wage gaps found among the population groups reflected, according to the Index, a "fragmented and unequal labor market in which each demographic receives a different set of opportunities."

The Index found that Arabs with higher education are represented at less than 50 percent of their population rate in most industry sectors and earn lower salaries than two-thirds of their Jewish counterparts in more than half of industry sectors, while educated Arab women suffer the largest wage gaps in most sectors. The likely cause, states the Index, is that most educated Arabs end up working in roles that do not require advanced degrees.

While Arab employees without post-high school education have higher representation and wage equality in more sectors than their educated counterparts, they are overrepresented in some of the lowest-paying industries, including employment and maintenance services, food production, and car sales. Additionally, Arab women without higher education earn the lowest wages in all blue-collar sectors. 

The Index also showed that the highest-paying industry sectors are the least diverse. For example, Arab men with degrees in math, statistics, electric and computer engineering comprise only 1.6 percent of computer programming employees and earn 66 percent of the wages of their Jewish counterparts. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, too, Arabs with degrees in natural sciences are represented at a far lower rate than Jewish employees with the same backgrounds.

EEOC Activity in Arab society, 2017

In recent years, the EEOC has emphasized raising awareness among Israel’s Arab citizens of their workplace rights and of recourse for discrimination. The EEOC has also launched efforts in partnership with employers and other entities to recruit increased numbers of Arab candidates for employment and to enable Arabs to advance to higher-level positions within the Israeli workforce.

According to the annual EEOC report from 2017 (Hebrew), 766 discrimination complaints were submitted to the EEOC in 2017, an increase of8 percent over from the previous year; 39 percent of these were from Arab employees.

The number of complaints made to the EEOC by Arabs rose significantly from 2016, presumably due to the Mish Foshta campaign launched in early 2017 by the EEOC and Authority for the Economic Development of the Minorities Sector. The campaign raised awareness of labor rights among Arabs in Israel, with a notable rise in complaints from Arab employees in the months following its launch.

Over the course of 2017, Advs. Firas Faraj and Miral Nahul of the EEOC's division in Haifa and the North conducted dozens of lectures on labor rights and diversity in Arab society. These included a lecture at an Israel Bar Association event in the Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye about employment diversity and discrimination prevention, participating in the launch of the Knesset lobby for Druze Women, lectures for the Haifa and Shfar'am municipalities, and a presentation for the employees of Alpha Omega, a Nazareth-based company. 

Additionally, Faraj and Nahul conducted a lecture series at Rayan Employment Centers in several Arab cities and towns for unemployed and under-employed Arabs. They sought to raise awareness of employment equality legislation and to impart tools and knowledge for integration and overcoming barriers in the labor market.

In 2017, along with the Government Companies Authority, the EEOC initiated long-term interventions to advance employment equality and diversity in state-owned enterprises including the Israel Railway, Ben-Gurion University, Port of Ashdod, Amidar housing company, and Israel Electric Corporation, with an emphasis on diversity in senior and managerial roles.

The EEOC analyzes employment, hiring, promotion, and integration trends in each entity, and devises long-term diversity strategies based on respective barriers and needs. The At the conference, Amit Oberkovitz, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at the Israel Electric Corporation, praised the program’s effectiveness. He emphasized the importance of comprehensive strategies led by senior management, support from consultants retained to implement those strategies, and consistent organizational discourse about advancing workplace heterogeneity and equality.

Conference Insights

Studies and insights shared at the conference conveyed the clear messages that Israel’s long-term economic prospects hinge on continuing to improve Arab citizens’ participation in the labor force, but that various barriers stand in the way of successfully attaining this goal, requiring increased efforts from government, industry, and civil society. Conference presentations and discussions included the impact of educational gaps on labor market participation and national economic viability.

The Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research presented findings from its Overview of Israel's Education System and its Impact that depict a worrying picture of Israel's labor productivity relative to the G7 countries. The study states that Israel has the largest gaps in education equality and one of the lowest average levels of education (not including Haredi boys) among OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. These factors directly affect employment rates and wage gaps among Israel’s different populations and, ultimately, the country’s labor productivity. Arabic speakers received among the lowest test scores cited in the study compared to OECD countries as well as participating Muslim countries.

The relatively low employment rate of Arabs and Haredim has long been cited as a threat to the Israeli economy and GDP. "We cannot sustain another 40 years like this," said the Shoresh Institution's Prof. Dan Ben-David, echoing similar forecasts previously made by the National Economic Council that the Israeli economy will become unsustainable by 2050 if Arabs and Haredim are not more fully integrated into the labor market.

From the Employers' Perspective

A "directors' panel" at the conference dedicated to discussing the value and challenges of workplace diversity included heads of private and public sector employers: Microsoft, Osem, Babcom Centers, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services.

All stated their support for a diverse workforce, which expands the available talent pool, fosters diversity of opinions and ideas, and enhances social tolerance. Public sector employers said they can better serve customers by employing Arabic-speaking service providers. Private companies emphasized that Arab employees can offer valuable insights that help them better reach Arab consumers. "Success is achieved because of diversity, not despite it,” said Imad Telhami, founder and chairman of Babcom Centers.

The employers also shared significant barriers to hiring and integrating Arab employees, including a lack of cultural understanding among human resources personnel, inability to reach Arab candidates, and the challenge of creating a comfortable workplace environment, particularly in times of war or political escalations. Government employers in particular stated that Arabs are reluctant to work for them and that they receive fewer applications from Arab candidates than do other employers.

Effective solutions cited included job advertisements in Arabic, intra-company teams of Arab managers to guide new Arab hires and promote diversity in managerial staff, and encouraging employees to refrain from publishing inflammatory social media posts in times of conflict.

The Ministry of Justice recruits Arab candidates by sending Arab employees to conduct outreach and by holding conferences in Arab communities, said Ministry Director General Emi Palmor. Arab employees now comprise 11 percent of the Justice Ministry’s workforce.

Employers cited civil society bodies that promote Arab employment, such as Collective Impact, Kav Mashve, and Al-Fanar, as a major help in overcoming barriers

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