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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Israel's treasury – no place for a woman, until NOW

Michal Abudi-Boiangiu, the treasury's highest ranking woman.

Several other ministries have become highly "feminized," but the Finance Ministry has remained a bastion of men.

History was made last week when the Finance Ministry named a woman to the powerful post of accountant general. Michal Abudi-Boiangiu broke through the glass ceiling and will forever have the honor of being the first female appointed to a senior position at the Finance Ministry.

Several other ministries have become highly "feminized," including Justice, Environmental Protection, Culture and Sports, and Development of the Negev and Galilee. All are run by female directors general. But the Finance Ministry has remained a bastion of men.

Gender experts and radical feminists note that the Finance Ministry, especially accountant general, are at the very top. And in such positions, men like keeping their cards close to their chests.

Also, although female economists are out there, it appears that women are reluctant to engage in money matters. A study by Dr. Julia Bar of the Technion's business administration school finds that even the most educated and successful women prefer not to talk about money. They will face any challenge until it comes to managing money.

It's easy to say that women aren't allowed to advance, but that's banal. The data prove that most simply don't want to be there. How often have we heard that a female politician, even the highest-ranking one, marks the Finance Ministry as her next goal? Never. Even when women aspire to the premiership, their route passes through other ministries such as industry, education and foreign affairs. Not finance. A man who is a philosopher, not an economist, can become finance minister, but a woman steers clear.

Abudi-Boiangiu will find herself very much alone at the Finance Ministry roundtable, but she's used to that. Her career in the capital market has prepared her for it.

Happily for us all, during her race for the position, three things fell into place that shattered the ceiling once and for all.

1. The timing was right. In other words, the position opened up just as she was ready to aim for it.

2. She has the skills and isn't repelled by finance; nor apparently does she cavil at the challenge of balancing family and career.

3. There was a man, yes, a man, a philosopher, in a very high position, a finance minister perhaps, dare we say a feminist in his soul, who did not cower before diktats, who put his money where his mouth was, who did not settle for lip service like so many men who applaud female advancement but surround themselves with men. This man had the courage to make history, choosing talent over gender.

Roughly the same set of circumstances enabled the appointment of Karnit Flug as deputy governor of the Bank of Israel. Again we find a skilled and determined woman, not afraid of money, in the right place at the right time - and a courageous man, in this case Stanley Fischer, who did not fear to erase the stigma.

It takes two to tango. It takes talented, skilled women to take the jobs, and men at the top with open minds to open the door.

History has proved that one breakthrough is the harbinger for many more. Change begins with awareness, continues with constant press coverage, and takes on flesh as a new generation matures and comes to power - a generation that assumes that gender bias is not productive. Then Michal Abudi-Boiangiu and Karnit Flug will no longer find themselves so alone at the roundtables of the highest circles of finance.