Friday, November 26, 2010

Jasmine Conference for Businesswomen 2010

On November 24, 2010, I attended the annual conference of Jasmine Businesswomen's Association. This was the third time I attended this conference. This year, it was held at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya.

The conference was hosted, as in previous years, by journalist Iman Elqasem Suliman. She was highly professional, introducing guests in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and providing some brief summaries of the English lectures. Simultaneous interpretation from Hebrew to Arabic using headphones was also available for those who required it.

The morning session was opened by Kiram Baloum, CEO of Jasmine and coordinator of the women's empowerment unit of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED).

The first guest speaker was Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, MK, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. He spoke about the economic development of the Arab sector and the importance of small businesses to the economy. He explained that Israel has 450,000 small businesses, constituting 98.5% of the businesses in Israel, and employing 55% of the country's workforce. His ministry is establishing dedicated loans and training for Arab women.

The next speaker was Helmi Kittani, CJAED Director, who stressed the importance of integration, and stated that the inclusion of Arab women in the workforce would guarantee a rise in the standard of living throughout Israeli society.

Next, we heard from Ran Kaviti, CEO of the Israel Small and Medium Enterprise Authority. He told us he had participated in an OECD conference entitled Road to Recovery, which stressed the importance of small businesses in economic recovery, and explained the role of the Authority in helping small businesses receive funding, training, and better regulatory conditions such as paying VAT on a cash basis.

Then we heard a regular participant in the Jasmine conferences, Dr. Lars Hansel of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, who impressed the audience by opening his talk with greetings in fluent Arabic, though he then continued in English. He spoke about the situation of women in Germany, where women are still paid 15% less than men, and constitute only 11% of board members. He noted two issues on the public agenda in Germany: gender diversity and pluralism, which contribute to companies' success; and arguments for and against a quota system. Supporters believe this is sometimes the only way to increase female participation, while opponents worry that women will be hired for reasons unrelated to their professional competence, and many women do not wish to be perceived as "token women" within an organization.

The next speaker was Yael German, Mayor of Herzliya. She is one of only 3 female mayors out of 71 mayors in Israel. She mentioned that only 15% of Israel's business owners are female, and stressed the importance of vision, decision taking, and optimism for women's success.

Billy Shapira, Director-General and Vice President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told us of her career development in the administration of the university. She noted that women constitute a majority of students and administrative staff, but only 22% of the academic staff. She attributed this partly to women's tendency to give in too easily, and said she had never encountered a "glass ceiling" in her career.

Yoav Zilca, CEO of Mentor Me, spoke about success, using terms whose initials created the Hebrew word success: decision (successful people decide quickly and change decisions slowly), growth (personal development and lifelong learning), faith (to overcome fear), vision, and persistence.

Next was a presentation about the Cartier Women's Initiative Award, by Israeli businesswoman Galia Albin, who has been a past juror for the award, and Freja Day, the award's project leader, who explained that each year three female entrepreneurs are selected as finalists from each of the five continents, and they receive coaching, then present their businesses to the jury, and one winner is selected from each continent. The winners receive $20,000, one year of coaching, networking opportunities, and media exposure. The presentation was aimed at encouraging Israeli business women to apply for the award, and it would certainly be an inspiration if one of the Jasmine members reached the finals.

The next talk was by Daniel Homyonfer of Hynon, about succeeding in international markets, and the importance of obtaining relevant information about the society and business atmosphere, for example through the local Chambers of Commerce.

Then, social media expert Hadas Adler spoke about social networks and the importance of providing free, useful content to form a personal brand and encourage followers to seek out your paying products.

The final lecture before lunch was by public relations expert Barak Rom, who spoke about the importance of achieving media exposure by combining professional knowledge with current events and offering to speak to the media, and publishing relevant content on social networks.

After lunch, the first speaker was Dr. Eyal Doron, who had created a television show about happiness, and gave an interesting talk about the research he explored for this purpose. He defined happiness as a moderate, positive, long-lasting emotion, stressing that happiness is not the same thing as pleasure, and should contain an element of meaning. People are happier when their work is a mission, giving meaning to their lives, rather than just a job (for money) or a career (for status). He also spoke about success, noting the importance of bringing up children to think independently and to practice their skills.

Next there was a panel of businesswomen, entitled "Succeeding against all odds". It was chaired by Iman Qasis, who stated that it is better to take risks than to avoid them. Dr. Amal Ayoub, CEO of Metallo Therapy, told us of her journey from studying physics to founding a start-up business dedicated to using nano-particles of gold for cancer treatments. She deserves to become a role model for young women embarking upon a scientific career. Alona Shechter overcame psoriasis and founded a successful cosmetics business. Julia Zahar inherited her husband's tahina factory in Nazareth and had to struggle as a woman in a traditional society. Natlia Corzon immigrated to Israel from Russia and started a business exporting cosmetics to Russia. The panel members answered a few questions from the audience.

Avishay Braverman, MK, Minister of Minority Affairs, spoke next. He argued that women are less narcissistic, more practical, and more organized than men, and hoped that women in Israel could bring the Jewish and Arab communities to get to know each other better. In Israel, the employment rate among Arab and Druze women is less than 20%, but he claimed this could not be for cultural reasons, since in Arab countries the rate is about 45%. His ministry is aiming to create more daycare facilities, better transport, and dedicated projects to enable Arab women to find employment. They are also devoting special budgets to higher education for the Arab sector, where there are already more female students than male.

The next speaker was another politician, Tsipi Livni, MK, Head of the Opposition. She told us that before entering politics, when she had her own law office, she did not feel there was any discrimination against her as a woman, but when she ran for Prime Minister in 2008, she encountered sexist reactions, but also widespread support from women. She encouraged Arab women to succeed, both for their own sakes, and also to become role models for others. She mentioned legislation aimed at providing appropriate representation for women on the boards of government companies, where there are currently only 3% female board members.

Yehuda Yizreel spoke about financial planning for businesses, stressing the importance of taking responsibility, saving for retirement, creating contracts for every business engagement, and so on.

Finally, business coach Osnat Rubin gave useful tips for business success.

The conference was enjoyable, but as in previous years, some talks started late, and some of the later speakers had to cut their talks short. The atmosphere of time pressure was not conducive to learning. I really hope this problem can be addressed by the organizers in future events, as I have attended several conferences that started on time and gave each speaker the allocated time. It can be done!

A new feature this year was the two prize raffles held immediately after lunch and at the end of the day. This was intended to get the audience back into the lecture hall after lunch, and to persuade everyone to stay until the end. The prizes included training and coaching sessions, and everyone was pleased to see that they were won by participants who would benefit from them.

I look forward to next year's conference.

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