Almost there in Israel

By Anita Leviant, President, Israel-Britain Chamber of Commerce


When did it all start? 

1930 was the first year when women were allowed to practice law in Israel. The Israeli Declaration of Independence, was signed back in 1948 by only two women out of 37 signatures, and one of them was Golda Meir, who was elected Prime Minister in 1964 and was, at that time, only the third woman Prime Minister in the world!

 Only in 1977 did violence in the family, stop being ‘family business’ and in 1988, sexual harassment became formally prohibited and sanctioned by law. Since then, there has been a lot of legislative activity ensuring equality in salaries, opportunities, and more. Only 34% of the senior positions in Israel are currently held by women, however. 


My personal experience

As the General Global Counsel of Hapoalim Banking Group and EVP Deputy Head of Hapoalim Europe, I led complex international projects. These included setting up a US Bank, listings and IPO in the NASDAQ and in the LSE, and setting up UK and Ireland Asset Management companies. I was involved in financial legislation initiatives and provided regulatory support, to the global expansion.

After I left the bank, I established LA Global Consulting advising on cross-border financial transactions and I am co-founder, of the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, with a branch in Switzerland for international arbitrations. On a volunteering basis, I chair the Israel-Britain Chamber of Commerce, aiming to enhance relations and use business as a bridge between people in both countries. (I am the first woman in this position, in the 60 years of the IBCC existence).

As a lawyer, a banker and business entrepreneur, I have been working for over 25 years in a world dominated by men. Most of the time, I have been participating in meetings around the world, being the only woman in the room. Nevertheless, I have, on the whole, felt equal and valued. I have worked hard, and have been rewarded equally and based on my performance.

There has always been a difference, but I believe, it was mainly focused on the personal and family level. My two sons got used to a travelling Mom, with long hours of work at the office and at home. It was challenging and not always perfect…. but I believed then, and still do now, you can combine raising a family and having a career.

I remember going to New York many years ago to take the New York Bar Exams, everyone was young and single and they invested day and night preparing for the big challenging exam. I had work and additional important missions in keeping in daily contact with my kids, including checking how the dentist appointment went, monitoring assignments at school and verifying grocery deliveries. At the end of the day, all went well, I didn't feel special, brave or pressed; it was my choice, and with my family’s full support, it was possible.

Fast forward to the present: I still don't meet a large number of women in the business meeting rooms, but it is much, much better. When young women I have been mentoring ask me what the key is, I always say:  “Believe in yourself and be proactive in creating your own reality. If you genuinely want to have a career, don't stop yourself, make the necessary arrangement with and for the family, make your partner a committed party into the process, and make sure you have back-up help.”

There are so many ways to combine acareer with a good family life. I believe the business sector has matured and increasingly knows how to accept and value women I business, and we see success stories there and in politics as well.

I am not saying that as women we are operating in a completely whole and welcoming environment. I had my share of situations derived merely from the fact I am a woman, but those didn't discourage me or made me give up. In other words, rather than being upset and intimidated, now we should go forward and continue with making the change.

Conclusion time…

So, looking back, we have made huge progress thanks to brave and assertive women (and quite a number of supportive men), nevertheless, we still have room for improvement and each of us matters.

Let us get to work! We are almost there…




Window into Europe