How high-tech went Charedi
Orthodox women in Israel are clamouring to work for IT firms — at low Indian rates of pay. But the arrangement
CHAVIE JOSOVIC stays up late most nights washing, ironing and cooking for her husband and six children. Her day begins at dawn. She takes a shower, says her prayers, and makes breakfast for her brood, who range from 18 months to 12 years. Her husband leaves for synagogue at 6am, leaving her to ferry the children to their schools, nurseries and childminders. There is enough time for a quick sprint on the treadmill, and by 8am Josovic is at her office computer, every inch the consummate professional.
Josovic, 34, is one of hundreds of strictly Orthodox women who have joined the latest phase of Israel’s hightech revolution. Matrix Global, a leading information technology company, had been considering outsourcing part of its workforce to India. Instead, it dis- covered a viable alternative on its doorstep. Four years ago, the firm, which employs 3,500 technical staff in Israel, opened a new office in the religious town of Modi’in Ilit.
Josovic says: “Years ago there wasn’t the option for a Charedi woman to work as a computer programmer, but I love working here. It’s interesting and it keeps the mind sharp.”
Residents of the town, located just inside the West Bank, rank among the country’s poorest. Men spend their time studying Torah, earning little if nothing at all. Yet the average couple in Modi’in Ilit has seven children to feed.
Matrix Global first considered moving to Modi’in Ilit after the then Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, aggressively slashed welfare benefits. Before the cuts, a range of allowances and tax exemptions enabled many Charedi families to get by without working. In fact, many were better off unemployed.
Netanyahu aimed to get Charedi families and other “unproductive” members of society into work. Steps were simultaneously taken to improve and subsidise childcare and provide grants to employers. Under an Industry, Trade and Labour Ministry initiative, Charedi women now pay as little as NIS 270 (£37) a month for childcare from 7am to 4pm. Meanwhile, employers are eligible for grants worth up to NIS 1,000(£138) a month per employee for five years.
In Modi’in Ilit, the initiative was taken by the town mayor, Yakov Gutterman. He approached several Israeli companies about the scheme.
Gutter - man says: “ I w o n - dered how to tap into this potential and turn some of these religious students into modern workers.” Matrix Global took a gamble…andithaspaid off. The firm opened its highly successful “Talpiot” project, an offshore development outsourcing centre, four years ago. The workforce is almost entirely female. These women are often highly skilled, yet p r e p a r e d t o w o r k at a rate competitive with India. In exchange, Matrix Global has created an environment designed to meet their needs.
Ronen Engler, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, says: “We started to think about moving jobs to India or China. Then we looked at Modi’in Ilit. Outsourcing is hard because of the time difference, but this is outsourcing in our own country.”
Management consulted the town’s spiritual leaders in setting up the branch. The result is a productive office with a quiet, harmonious atmosphere.
“We were told that if we met the women’s needs, they would be available to work. Matrix Global is a business and is obviously looking for affordable manpower, but also has a social conscience about working within the community,” says Engler.
Israel’s high-tech industry is renowned for demanding long hours from employees, but these offices are deserted by 4pm as staff leave to collect their offspring. Men and women are segregated, with separate kitchens and communal areas, as well as a mothers’ room f or breastfeeding women. Female Staff dress modestly, w h i c h m e a n s n o t r o u - sers, short s l e e v e s , plunging necklines or bare legs, and management address the women by their married titles. “A Charedi woman is the perfect worker,” says Engler. “They don’t surf the internet, spend time on MSN or personal calls. Nor do they take long cigarette breaks. They are very conscientious, work hard and show respect for their employers.”
The project has proved so successful that Matrix Global is now considering opening similar operations in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Haifa.
Matrix Global’s model has been duplicated in the town and elsewhere in Israel. Joe Rosenbaum, a religious American businessman, founded CityBook in Modi’in Ilit as a satellite office to an insurance and property-services company based in New Jersey, in the United States. He recognised the potential, hoping to offer employees the chance to work in an environment sensitive to their needs — in exchange for salaries competitive with India’s.
He says: “It always bothered me seeing so many people within the Orthodox community having such difficulty making ends meet.”
Modi’in Ilit lies at the heart of the socalled Charedi silicon valley. CityBook has about 200 religious employees in the town, Beitar Ilit and Jerusalem.
Image-store, another Modi’in Ilitbased company, relies on its largely female Orthodox workforce to run its digital-archiving business. Partner, the Israeli mobile phone operator, has also established a Charedi womenonly workplace in Jerusalem.
Women are not the only members of the religious community turning to jobs in the high-tech industry. In Jerusalem, outsourcing pioneer IDT Global Services is now hiring middleaged strictly Orthodox men to staff its facilities.
The sector has had a great impact on the religious community. Statistics released last month show that poverty levels have dropped by five per cent within this sector.
American-born Libby Affen is the CEO of the Talpiot project. An IT professional, she has been with Matrix Global for 15 years. She is strictly Orthodox and as such understands her employees’ cultural requirements.
Affen, 51, a grandmother of more than 30children,wasinstrumentalinsetting
Chavie Josovic: now a working motherof-six