Women in the defence forces – mixing together early combats prejudice

Mixed-sex units are the norm in Israel's Cyber Defence Force, with former female members of an Israeli intelligence unit saying their operation could serve as a model for tech companies looking to bring more women into their ranks.

Serving as the nation's premier intelligence department, Unit 8200 is credited with training a number of experts who go on to careers in cybersecurity, an article on The Register revealed. It also boasts a large female workforce – roughly 55 per cent of the unit is comprised of women, compared to just 11 per cent of the infosec industry as a whole.

Most notably and significantly for Australians, it was also the unit that helped Australian authorities thwart the attempted bombing of an Emirates flight in Australia last year.

Interestingly, the structure of a military unit, with its emphasis on rank and specialisation, helped overcome not just gender bias, but also notions on age and experience.

"If you are a subject-matter expert – in whatever area – you will go and talk in the boardroom, you will be presented and tell your opinion no matter how junior you are," Lital Asher-Dotan said at a conference on diversity in the workplace, The Register revealed.

However, after leaving the army and entering the workforce and private industry, it was noted how different the dynamics were and led to a rude awakening.

"Only after I left the military and saw the real world did I start understanding what the problem was,” Shira Shamban, a data analyst, told the conference attendees, The Register reported. “The way people at work communicate, the jokes they make around the table make women feel uncomfortable, a guy can make a remark that can make you feel so small and you don't want to talk in that meeting."

This came in direct conflict to having started in the military unit at the age of 18 with men and women together, the camaraderie helping men connect with their female peers, former Unit 8200 member Maya Pizov said.

She explained how, even after leaving, she was able to network with her male Unit 8200 comrades and, in many cases, develop strong connections even when she was the only woman in the room.

"When you're 18 or 19 you don't develop this prejudice," she observed, "You are all starting at same level," The Register reported.

It’s a great starting point. If this kind of equality and diversity can exist in some workplaces it means it can exist anywhere making it advantageous to all.

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