A report that examined 70 Venture Capital funds and 424 private and VC-backed startups that are active in Israel revealed that the average percentage of women represented in companies is 33%. Though there is a more substantial presence of women in large companies (36%) than in smaller companies (30.8%), the representation of women in tech jobs is a mere 27%. When it comes to management roles, being a C-level executive, VP, or director, only 23.4% of these positions are filled by women. That is to say, less than a quarter of the decision-makers in the ecosystem are women. When looking at VCs, only 14.8% of the partners are women and only 9% are investing partners. This piece of data correlates with the percentage of companies that are founded by women in the tech industry which is 12%. These statistics reflect not only the Israeli tech ecosystem but also the global one, as the universal technology industry has only 31% overall female representation.

In order for the startup nation to continue to thrive, there needs to be more diversity within tech. Overall, higher gender inclusivity in the tech industry can lead to better outcomes, with more efficient decision making, bolstered innovation, and enhanced business and economic yields. And so, there is no reason why the human makeup of the ecosystem should not represent the number of women in the general population and the number of qualified women for these roles. Though there has been a significant increase in the number of women that are represented in the tech ecosystem in Israel, it is far from being enough. This series will focus on those women who have made it in tech and tell the stories of their journeys within the tech ecosystem– where they are now, and how they got there. We hope that this series will inspire other women to go after their tech-driven goals and not let gender biases, prejudices, and stereotypes get in their way; we hope to motivate companies to allocate considerable resources to the implementation of diversity programs and focus on expanding the pool of candidates that are underrepresented in the workforce; we hope to encourage government and educational institutions to take measures in providing the tools, support, and means necessary to enable a more diversified tech workforce.

Zohar Scheinin has held many hats as a co-founder of Kando. She formerly worked as the company’s VP of HR & Operations, Chief Customer Success Officer (CSO), and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), but now, she is the acting Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Her company, Kando, provides a wastewater technology platform that can detect outbreaks of diseases embedded in wastewater, and provides additional information on public health metrics. As water is an integral part of our lives, water quality plays an essential role in human health and community development. Unfortunately, even so, providing stable water quality is becoming increasingly challenging especially as wastewater continues to pose challenges like waterborne diseases. So much so that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year more than three million people die due to diseases found in raw sewage. Her company, an Israeli startup, is trying to change that.

Kando’s wastewater intelligence platform collects and analyzes data from wastewater networks and sets off alerts when the system detects subpar water quality related to health, sustainability, and safety. In a nutshell, they analyze the data from wastewater to generate instant insights into what’s really going on inside urban sewage systems. They are therefore helping their customers, be it countries, cities, and water utilities, assess the characteristics of wastewater in real-time, make decisions on its regard, and take action related to public health. Through artificial intelligence, Kando detects events in a water network, such as diseases, and can track its source and provide solutions for mitigation. Their 24/7 real-time data detects blockage and infiltration to protect wastewater treatment plants. It can even detect variants of COVID-19 which has been able to help municipalities track the source of the outbreak.

In an exclusive interview, Zohar Scheinin sat down with Geektime to share her story about her journey through tech as a woman. She understands that as a co-founder and executive at a tech company, she holds great power for garnering change; as the executive responsible for overseeing Kando’s personnel, she is able to implement some of the lessons she has learned as a woman in tech to make the company a healthy and welcoming place for all employees, especially the female ones. She hopes that through sharing her story, men and women will be inspired to do the same.

“My journey in high-tech started many years ago and has been an integral part of my professional career. I started my career at Cellcom, where I worked for around ten years, before moving to DHV, one of Israel's largest environmental engineering consultancy companies. When I left DHV, I wanted to take part in creating something new and began seeking unique entrepreneurial opportunities, to continue my professional development. The field of wastewater analysis appealed to me because of its vast potential for growth so I started there. And so, I founded Kando.”

Zohar describes Kando's first years like the scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorthy first arrives in Oz: “The cozy, rustic black and white scenery peels away to reveal a kaleidoscopic wonderworld, dazzling, colourful place filled with opportunities– some new and unfamiliar, some charming and magical, but others dark, sinister, uncertain, and scary.” And just as going to Oz changed Dorothy’s life, founding Kando changed Zohar’s. “The initial period was very hectic. I’d never started a company before and didn’t entirely know what to do, but we [the founding team] made sure to lay a solid foundation. Though sometimes it feels like I am on a rollercoaster with Kando, the ride is still running because of the groundwork we put down. And our success is a testament to that.”

Being a woman never stopped Zohar from pursuing her career dreams, but it wasn't easy. As she is a co-founder in a male-dominated domain [wastewater analysis], there are several insights she has formulated about her industry, and women in tech in general. “The field of wastewater is known to be dominated by environmental engineers, a specialization in which the majority of experts are still men. I remember that our Head of Impact, a woman, went to do field surveys in the manholes and the men stood around her, in shock, that she was actually going to see the cockroaches and smell the stench of the sewer. Even the word itself – manhole – brings with it a certain implicit bias about who should and shouldn’t be monitoring our sewage. Sadly, many people still see trusting and hiring female employees without a second thought as something revolutionary – something that sends a message in the fight for equality. I don’t see it that way. For our team, we hire impressive, qualified female collaborators because we hire impressive, qualified collaborators period. It’s simply our second nature. I feel proud that gender equality is such a deeply ingrained part of our company culture, and I look forward to the day when that is the case at every organization.”

Zohar puts her money where her mouth is. Kando doesn't just preach about being a female-friendly workforce, they have systems in place that make sure of it. Attracting female employees and engaging women with tech careers are at the top of Kando’s agenda. “Right now, 55% of our employees at Kando are women, and that’s something I’m very proud of even though women are not yet well represented across the industry as a whole.” But for Zohar, it isn't just about having women at the company but also incorporating them as key players. Having women in positions where they can influence all aspects of the company’s operations, including business development, product management and sales is just as important to her: “We have women across all our teams: computer engineers, environmental engineers, researchers, data scientists, sales team members and tech support.” In the same token, Kando makes its working structure as flexible as possible. “We encourage our employees to work the hours that suit them in order to get the job done while still being able to prioritize family or other commitments. For employees with children, we’re happy for them to leave work early to spend time with their families, and that also extends to men. There’s no reason that only women should benefit from family-related flexibility. Most companies only started having flexible work structures with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but at Kando, it has always been a value, especially since it affects women more, as they are the status quo prime caregivers for their family. And such an approach has proven worthwhile since not a single female employee has left due to personal life complexities.” Kando continues to grow and flourish thanks to the virtue they put in making the workplace a place where everyone can thrive, regardless of their gender.

Though Zohar recognizes the progress women in the workforce have had throughout the years, the fight is far from being over, especially for women in tech. “The larger attitude towards women in tech needs to change. Company hierarchies need to be aware that many times, women won’t apply for or approach new positions if they’re not entirely confident that they have the requisite abilities to match the job requirements. Women are inherently more self-critical, and often that means that the recruitment process needs to be modified for applicants who are women. If companies are willing to acknowledge this, then I believe that they can find a ready pool of talent waiting to succeed in any field. The more companies understand this, the fewer deterrents women will have to make the strides in tech that they are fully capable of.” Zohar wants to stress that any sort of change that will come in the industry needs to come from within. And though one change might start as one company’s initiative, the impact it creates could have rippling effects throughout the entire ecosystem. Companies just need not be afraid of adopting more innovative and less traditional solutions and working styles.

So, what advice does Zohar have for women in tech? “Just go for it!” Zohar believes that if having a career in tech is your dream, then you should chase after it no matter what. But beyond adopting a perpetual can-do attitude, she emphasizes that to succeed as a woman in tech, you need to speak openly with your partners and colleagues about what your specific needs might be. “When we founded Kando, I received great support from my co-founder, Ari Goldfarb (CEO). At the time, I had a ten-month-old son and Ari was very supportive of me during that period. Once my son got older, I was able to throw myself back into Kando’s inner workings at full speed. But I was only able to assume that extra responsibility through having those conversations with my co-founder and ensuring that he was fully in the loop.” She continued by explaining that finding an organization that champions a work-life balance that works best for you – a place where you can communicate your needs comfortably and reach your goals confidentiality – is critical when building a career– in any industry. And as more and more companies are fostering workplaces that prioritize this work-life balance, Zohar hopes that finding a suitable workplace for women will only get easier. For now, she knows she is doing her part to ensure that at Kando.