High-ranking women in the Israeli army: “This job requires tolerance and less ego and we are good at it”

Lieutenant Colonel Michal Frenkel is the head of the Innovation Branch, Innovation and Combat Methods Division of the Planning directorate in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“We need innovation to better solve operational problems so tactical forces out in the field have what they need to engage enemies. We are not here to have fun, although it can be fun to innovate, but it is also hard work. It’s a dirty job.”.

Lieutenant Colonel Michal Frenkel He is 41 years old and lives in Tel Aviv. She two and a half years ago she is the Head of the Innovation Branch, Innovation and Combat Methods Division of the Planning Directorate in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In Israel, militarism is part of daily life. As defined by researchers at Bar Ilan University Orna Sasson-Levy Y Gilly Hartal in Women and Israeli Military Culture“is a combination of ideology, institutional practices, and everyday interactions that promote the understanding that weapons and the handling of violence are routine, self-evident, and integral to Israeli Jewish culture.”

In this sense, they explain that more than a quarter of a century ago, the Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling argued that “cultural militarism” characterizes Israel, as armed forces are seen as essential to social experience and collective identity, and wars are perceived as inevitable.

Hannah Herzoga professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University, specializing in gender, took that definition as a basis and extended it by writing that “Life in the shadow of a protracted Arab-Israeli conflict and constant threat has become a powerful mechanism for reproducing the gendered division of labor and consequently gender inequality.”

Frenkel acknowledges in dialogue with Infobae that she is one of the few women in leadership positions within the organization: “You sit in a conference room and in most cases you are the only woman. I wouldn’t say there are enough women in senior positions.”

LTC Michal Frenkel
“Once you get to a higher rank, like Lieutenant Colonel, you sit in a conference room and in most cases you’re the only woman”

For this reason, he believes, it is necessary to take action on the matter. “I don’t believe in talking, but in doing, I think it’s the only possible way”, ensures.

-Israel’s IDF is among the few armies that recruit women under a mandatory military law. You have a background and a career in Sociology and Anthropology. Why did you decide to come back?

-I returned to the army when I was 29 years old, so I’m a bit of a rarity…although several professional officers return to the army after their mandatory service. So I came back to the IDF after receiving my master’s degree in organizational sociology. I never dreamed that I could do that, that it was even an option, because when I was in compulsory service, I didn’t go to the office course and took another track and worked in the high-tech industry in Israel, at Intel. One day a friend told me “I’m going back to the army”. And I wondered if it was really possible and it was. For me, working or serving in a place that has meaning was much, much better than working for an industry that is primarily concerned with making more and more money. So doing something meaningful brought me back.

-How was your experience as a woman in the IDF?

-Well, in my case, I re-enlisted in the army in a really feminine area, such as Behavioral Sciences. So it was pretty easy. They were all psychologists or sociologists. It was where I met my classmates, mostly women. But once you get to a higher rank, like Lieutenant Colonel, you sit in a conference room and in most cases you are the only woman.

I don’t believe in talking, but in doing, I think it’s the only possible way. Having achievements is the only way to go and I think the IDF is changing in recent years; they definitely changed since I was in compulsory service. Today it is less difficult, although it is not easy at all. I wouldn’t say that there are enough women in high-ranking positions and I talk about that within the IDF.

It is important to have a role model, someone to look up to and aspire to emulate. If you don’t see women in hierarchical positions, you can’t dream of being in that place.

And this also happens on other levels. The first mixed infantry unit, the Caracal Battalion, was established in 2004. Since then, the percentage of military positions open to women has steadily increased. But women are still being integrated into combat roles. Do you think that the area of ​​technology and innovation is more inclusive?

-Yes, definitely, because when you work in the fields of technology and innovation, you don’t depend on your body. It’s not you, out in the dark, in the rain, in the snow, whatever. And this is something that definitely helps or gives women… I wouldn’t say an advantage, but the same level as men. We are as smart as them, and if the barrier of being on the battlefield is removed, or other barriers that may prevent us or not help us to get those roles then working on technology and innovations is something that is definitely needed and the organization understands it.

israeli army
“This job requires tolerance, it requires less ego, and it requires a willingness to understand that you are not the best”

And, by the way, there are several academic articles that talk about the relationship between innovation and gender, and even give women the advantage because, innovation has a lot to do with people, and women may have an advantage in mediation, bringing down the ego level and saying “hey, how can we work together?”. And that is something that is really needed in innovation.

I believe that this job requires tolerance, it requires less ego, and it requires a willingness to understand that you are not the best. And today what is needed is modesty and women are good at it. If you want to have a diverse conversation, it is better that the woman is there, and the commanders who are men understand that.

-The IDF is still catching up with Israel’s civilian success in high technology. How is innovation encouraged within the army?

-Fortunately for us, we have a lot of dreamers and a lot of people who want to change and want to work to improve. And we build mechanisms for that. For example, once a year, there’s the Chief of Staff Innovation Award. That is the way you can show what you are dreaming about. But before you submit your applications to be nominated, there is competition within your body. So you have to show it to your commander, who has to show it to his commander. We also have the hackathon acceleration programs so you can take your idea if it’s good enough and build on it. And collaboration with DDRD is once a year, you can submit unclassified issues to all high-tech companies in Israel. This is how they get investors and financing… And they both win.

-The reason why you progress more slowly than civilian technology companies has to do with security issues?

-Mainly because of the issue of Open Source. Yes, it’s security, but I can’t work in the cloud. I’ll give you an example of what I did in my last post, it’s unranked and I can talk about it. I worked with a high-tech company and we developed an algorithm that can predict the chances of a permanent soldier leaving the military. And in order to do that, I had to recruit them with a security level and have them work inside the base. They didn’t have access to GitHub or sources that could help them do that, so it’s really hard to catch up.

That’s why we’re finding ways to work with high-tech industries through mediators, through defense security and other things. But I think that what all armies want now is to be able to work in the cloud, but with secure measures. That is something that all the big companies are working on, and once we have it, it will be much easier. Our enemies surely want to have the same. But yes, it is a struggle to work under these restrictions.

-How do you use technology so that there are fewer civilian casualties during wars?

War means taking risks.. We want to take as many risks as we can by making sure that we do not harm the civilians we attack, only the enemies, and with minimal risk to the civilian population. And when you have the precise data, the necessary technologies, you have everything you need to take the most calculated risks on the battlefield. That way we can make sure we only damage enemies and not the other uninvolved population.

We are talking a lot about the relationship between ethics and technology. We understand that commanders in the field take risks anyway, so we want to make sure they are provided with any tools that help them make the right decisions.

Photos: Israel Defense Forces (IDF)


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