‘Lesbians Who Tech’ Make Their Mark

Lesbians Who Tech combines two distinct yet quintessential facets of Tel Aviv life: a vibrant LGBT scene and high-tech startups center.

Lesbians Who Tech in Tel Aviv (Photo: Lidar Moshe)

For one week in June, Israel’s second city drums to a different beat: A mass of bronzed and oiled bodies descend on beachside bars and cafes festooned with rainbow flags, downing lunchtime mojitos to a soundtrack of pumping techno. This is Tel Aviv Gay Pride, the culmination of which is a traffic-stopping parade Friday that attracts some 200,000 people from around the world. Despite the predominance of muscled men on a rolling catwalk of ever smaller swim shorts, “Women in the Community” is the 2016 theme, and behind the scenes, it’s LGBT women who are really shaking things up.

Lesbians Who Tech combines two distinct yet quintessential facets of Tel Aviv life: a vibrant LGBT scene (voted the No. 1 gay city in a 2012 poll) and, with more high-tech startups per capita than any other country in the world, an established tech ecosystem. The pithily named organization “for queer women [working] in or around tech,” which started in a San Francisco bar three years ago, has since swelled to more than 16,000 global members in 35 cities. American founder Leanne Pittsford caught the industry’s attention with events such as #BringALesbianToWorkDay, and the group found its new eastern Mediterranean home in December. Six months later, LWT was holding its first Tel Aviv tech summit, bringing together lesbian women for a series of networking events and presentations in Google’s Tel Aviv offices.

In Israel, as in the United States, women are underrepresented in the fields of science and hi-tech. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women constituted just over a third of employees in the country’s hi-tech sector in 2014, including positions in marketing and sales. If the fields are narrowed down to mathematics, statistics, computer science and engineering, women are only a quarter of the workforce, CBS data released in March 2015 reveals, comparable to the 26 percent of computing jobs that are held by women in the U.S.

In her opening remarks to the assembled crowd, Pittsford said she wanted the event “to be a tech conference first” — but the all-female surroundings made for a distinctive atmosphere, one that participants relished, Sivan Kaniel, one of the summit’s organizers, and a trip manager for AirBnB in Dublin, Ireland, told International Business Times. “In most tech conferences, women are in the minority. Even at LGBT events, women are usually outnumbered by men. [Conferences like this] provide an opportunity for empowering women, something I’m passionate about.”

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