Up until three years ago, I was an executive female in Israel, where I was born.
"Lent" to my government -- by the newspaper where I worked -- to fill a special assignment at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, I left Israel for a new career in the U.S.
Working on both sides of the ocean has given me the chance to make comparisons -- endless comparisons -- between the American career woman and her sister in Israel. (Or the so-called liberated, equal Israeli working woman and the not-so-equal American working woman.) In my job as the attache for Women's Affairs (basically disseminating information among women's organizations) and as a working mother, I have met many women of all kinds, levels, ages and professions.
I will start from the middle: The Israeli woman did not need a social revolution to leave home and join the labor force. She, for generations, acted as a working woman, because of both the natural atmosphere of equality into which she was born and because she was urged to work. (In Israel, it has been hard for a long time to live on one paycheck.)
That equal sharing of work between men and women, however, belongs mainly to the past, the pioneering '20s-'40s. The current gap between the number of working women in Israel (36 percent) and the number of American women in the labor force (51 percent) is no surprise: Israel is a country struggling with the handicaps of past traditions, especially for women coming from Moslem countries and their offspring. More than one-half million Jews in Israel are refugees from Arab lands; most of the mothers among them have large families, and few are in the labor force.
There is one significant area where data from the U.S. and Israel correspond: the percentage of working women with 16 years or more of formal education. In Israel 76 percent are working outside their homes; 73 percent of women college graduates are in the American labor force.
The living conditions and style of life create some special difficulties for the working woman in my country when she takes on the two careers of professional and wife/mother. (Although the Israeli Labor Department provides major budgetary allocations for the construction of day-care centers, there are still not enough.) Consider, for example:
Elementary-school children finish at noon and return home for a dinner-type meal. Although it's part of the Israeli "ritual" of a big, warm meal in the middle of the day, it complicates the life of the working mother.
The short weekend. The weekend begins at about 2 p.m. on Friday and lasts until Sunday morning. All stores and services are closed. A working woman has to be a talented juggler in order to find the right time for shopping; all stores close weekdays at 7 p.m.
High taxes (as high as 170 percent) on imported electrical appliances. Dishwashers and dryers are luxuries.
Small apartments -- no closets -- which make house-cleaning a nonstop job.
Expensive restaurant food ($25-$50 a couple for an average meal), which minimizes the chances of eating out.
A gallon of gasoline costs $3.12.
The average per-person annual income in Israel is $3,830, compared with $7,400 in the United States.
But despite the obstacles, a gratifying proportion of career-oriented women in Israel have achieved "topdrawer" positions. Many serve as judges (two at the supreme-court level) and one-third of the country's doctors are women.
An Israeli professional woman is not expected to perform according to the U.S. cliche: "to do twice as well as a man to be thought half as good." She just has to be as good as he is. So far as promotions, there is -- officially speaking -- absolute equality.
Still, I believe the major hurdle for a career woman on her way to the top in Israel is not sex discrimination or lack of equal opportunities. The main problem is her struggle with a stronger set of values: the family.
Israel is a married society. By age 40 only 2.5 percent of women have not married (4.9 percent in the U.S.) and 4.7 percent of men (8.3 percent in the U.S.) have not.
Marriage is Israel's national panacea. It provides security and stability in a country that lives from one crisis to another, between wars and tensions. The life style of a stable nuclear unit gives a sense of permanence for a people still suffering from the trauma of the Holocaust.
Marriage holds the promise of establishing roots -- apartment, property, children -- and offers the reassurance of continuity.
And not only do Israelis almost always get married, they generally stay married. Since the early '60s divorces in Israel have remained at a stable low. While 6.9 percent of women and 4.7 percent of men have been divorced in the U.S., comparable figures for Israel are only 3 percent and 1.5 percent respectively.
In the Israeli labor market there are many part-time job openings for those wanting to work only 4 hours a day. More than a third of the women in the labor force have part-time jobs; about one fourth of all women workers in 1978 HELD PART-TIME JOBS IN THE U.S.
I found here a new type of career woman: a single woman who is not pushed by her society to marry early, if at all. A 30-plus single woman is not a walking tragedy in America. The social pressure to marry and bear off-spring is much stronger in Israel.
A single career woman, therefore, is usually more socially relaxed in the United States. Being more liberated and at ease with herself, the American woman tends to be more highly motivated and dedicated to her work.
What is the uniqueness of the American executive female?
I am perhaps most impressed by her assertiveness and boldness, the toughness and self-confidence of one who has "made it." Having gained her position after participating in a "survival fight," a fight to overcome prejudices and to secure promotion in a man's world, she behaves accordingly.
She is at the top, or on her way there and she is celebrating her victory. She cares about her position and her gains; she is on the alert when she meets a rival.
While summing up my American experience I feel compelled to salute the key asset of the career woman here: planning. The American woman is efficient, not only at her desk, but in her home and among friends.
With great acknowledgement of the warmth and spontaneity of the Israeli career woman, I do regret the stringent conditions of our life. We are, many times, unable to make plans for the uncertain future, and it reflects in our daily customs.
As an indication, however, of the spirit of equality in Israel, the status of my spouse was described in his passport: "The husband of."