Israel is home to thousands of startups and software companies changing the way we live today and tomorrow, and yet, points out Noga Mann, cofounder of QueenB, women don’t make up an equal share of the developers in these companies.
“We feel that the loss here is double: for the industry that has a shortage of computer programmers and is missing out on potentially high quality workers, and also for the women who aren’t taking part in a fascinating and challenging field that has the ability to influence society,” Mann says.
To change this, Mann joined forces with Neta Moses and Yasmin Dunsky to start QueenB, a nonprofit that aspires to increase the number of women in tech. Mann and Dunsky believe that the problem begins very early on, when society pushes boys to be brave and take risks, while teaching girls to be perfect and avoid making mistakes.
“Only women who excel in this field enter it in the first place, because they know they’ll succeed in it, while men choose to work in computer programming even if they don’t excel in it, just because they know it’s an interesting and well-paid field,” Mann says.
Finding coding at an early age
For QueenB CEO Dunsky, who’s from Tzur Yig’al in central Israel, computer programming runs in the family. Seeing her older sisters write code, Dunsky says knew she was going to do the same from an early age. Her sisters started teaching her the basics when she was in the fourth grade, and she remembers it feeling like a fun game. She totally fell in love with it when she had an idea for a computer game. Her dad—also a programmer—wrote the code for the game and the very next day, she was already playing it.
“That’s when I understood how much power lies in the hand of programmers,” she enthuses.
Mann, who grew up in Mevaseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem, also started early. As a child, she built fansites for her favorite TV shows and characters using HTML and Photoshop. In the army, she served for Unit 8200, an Israeli Intelligence Corps unit responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption, which furthered her interest in the field. Like Dunsky, she too went on to study computer science at university. It was there that the women realized how few other females shared their passion.
Being young women—Dunsky is 25 and Mann is 27—convincing investors that they are serious, and not “little girls with a cute idea,” as Dunsky puts it, has not always been easy. After finding investors and schools interested in working with them, they started their first teaching year in October 2016. Today, their nonprofit consists of three employees, about 40 tutors (female computer science students who receive a scholarship for their work), and over 150 teenage pupils. Classes cost a very affordable 500 shekels per year ($142), and those unable to pay can apply for scholarships.
Tailored to millennials
The lessons have been tailored specifically to millennial girls, taking into consideration the fast pace and constant stimulation this generation is used to. “We have to make lessons interesting enough to get the students’ attention and keep it,” explains Mann. In addition, QueenB organizes activities and events for hundreds of female tech students in order to help them on their way to joining the tech industry.
In October 2017, Dunsky and Mann won a $72,000 prize at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards, and say they’ll use the money to expand their activity from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they have been operating so far, to each one of Israel’s four big universities. Their dream is to turn QueenB into a youth organization that reaches girls across the country from seventh grade until high school graduation and who could then become tutors themselves, helping to teach the next generation of women coders.
“The community we created is friendly and fun, mostly because of the refreshing way we chose to rebrand coding,” says Dunsky. “We took a field that is considered gray and colored it pink.”
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.