Naama Barak
March 6

The car industry is pretty conservative and it’s usually led by men. This gives Michal Geva an entrepreneurial edge.

Geva is the general manager of Harman Automotive Israel and the general manager for OTA (over the air) and cybersecurity at Harman International

She became associated with Harman some 10 years ago, when she joined Israeli startup Red Bend just before it evolved into Harman Israel upon being purchased by Harman, an automotive electronics technology company and a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics.

“We do software updates for cars,” she explains to ISRAEL21c. “Think of how you update the software for your phone – the same goes for cars. It’s very complicated because each has so many computers connected to one another.”

If the software update on your phone doesn’t work, she points out, it’s not the end of the world. If the software update for the car doesn’t work, well, you can just imagine what might happen.

“What’s interesting about us is that we were a small company from Hod Hasharon in Israel – a country with no automotive industry at all – and we were leading in the field of software updates for cars,” she adds. 

“Harman purchased us because they saw our potential.”

Women at the helm

Geva began noticing the lack of female peers some 15 years ago, when she was CEO of a different company and counted many more women in management there compared to similar companies. 

The number of female managers, she realized, very much depended on whether the organization’s CEO was female.

“I don’t know whether it has to do with personal example, tolerance, openness, empathy or management style, but I can tell you that there are now more women across the organization, not only in the immediate surroundings reporting directly to me,” she notes of her present workplace.

The woman steering herself to the top of the car industry
The team at Harman Israel. Geva believes her company has more female employees than others because of her leadership position. Photo courtesy of Harman Israel

“Just the fact that a woman manages the company somehow encourages the decentralization of resources. My team here in Israel is about 30 percent women. When I travel to meetings with my American counterparts, there are absolutely no women. It strikes me each time anew. I walk into a room with 20 men and I’m the only woman, and this is because the automotive industry is very masculine,” she says.

“We have so many women compared to other companies. I must admit, it’s not the 50/50 we see in other fields. My son, for example, is a doctor, and there it really is 50/50. But we must also remember that at university level, women aren’t 50 percent of computer science graduates.”

Herself a graduate of computer science studies at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Geva notes that people of all backgrounds are becoming better integrated in Israel’s tech ecosystem – not only women, but also, for example, Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“We’re seeing more and more women joining, even if not at the pace that I’d wish for,” Geva says. 

“I think that we can encourage more by personal example. You see women advancing and in key positions while having a family, and children, maintaining a career and doing all these things simultaneously, and in a pleasant way.”

Assertiveness and awareness

“I don’t want to make generalizations,” she says, “but in our industry, you see a lot of aggressiveness. Female leadership is assertive, but far less aggressive. This, of course, doesn’t come at the expense of results.”

There’s increased awareness. 

“Unrelated to the industry, there are now all these stories we’re hearing about women contributing in the army, fighting alongside men and doing very significant work. It’s empowering in the sense of demonstrating that if you want something and you’re good at it, you must move forward and not hesitate,” she adds.

On the subject of family life and a career, Geva feels women don’t have to choose between one or the other.

“My kids are already grown up, one is 33 and the other 31 and a half. I raised them as a single parent since their father was abroad, and all along my career I kept advancing myself. The kids never stopped me,” she shares.

“And neither do they feel deprived. Of course, there were concessions that had to be made, but it’s possible to be there for all events at school, all the important stuff, all the PTA meetings, but also to fulfil yourself in your work hours,” she says.

Geva still finds it fulfilling to be part of the technological revolutions in the automotive field.

Although autonomous vehicles haven’t quite succeeded yet despite earlier expectations in the industry, she points to many other advancements that did succeed. 

“I, for example, hate parking, and now you can press a button and it parks the car for you. The market is very interesting and there are lots of opportunities in Israel,” she says.

“I’m having a good time, and as long as I’m having fun I’ll keep on doing.” 

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