Workplace Diversity in a Polarized Society: How Employers View the Ultraorthodox in "Mixed" Workplaces

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This new study offers the perspective of Jewish Israelis who are not ultra-Orthodox—their attitudes on ultra-Orthodox integration in the labor market and their experience with employing the ultra-Orthodox or working alongside them on a daily basis.


For the past two decades and more, ultra-Orthodox society has been experiencing profound social and cultural changes in its complex relations with the State and Israeli society. These include the growing presence of the ultra-Orthodox in many different employment settings. These attempts at integration frequently run into significant problems, obstacles, and challenges, some of which are associated with the way in which secular employers view this group of workers. In the Employers’ Survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2015, more than half of all employers in Israel (56%) reported that in the previous five years there had been no significant changes in the representation of different population groups in their workforce. About 40% agreed that diversity is "desirable" but not to a great extent.

A series of studies indicate that one of the major obstacles to the integration of the ultra-Orthodox in the general workforce is related to cultural and social differences between ultra-Orthodox workers and employers who come from other sectors of society—differences that make it more difficult for them to recruit, employ, and promote ultra-Orthodox workers.

This new study offers the perspective of Jewish Israelis who are not ultra-Orthodox—their attitudes on ultra-Orthodox integration in the labor market and their experience with employing the ultra-Orthodox or working alongside them on a daily basis.

The study was based on both qualitative and quantitative data. The former included in-depth one-on-one interviews with managers and employers who are not ultra-Orthodox, and the latter- an online survey of 520 non-Haredi respondents who were employed alongside ultra-Orthodox colleagues at the time of the survey. About two-thirds (64.4%) of the respondents defined themselves as secular, 21.7% as traditional, and 13.7% as National- Religious or National- Ultra-Orthodox. The sample included an equal number of men and women.

In general, there are two main motives for hiring ultra-Orthodox workers. The first is the employer's need for personnel, and practical business considerations related to employment costs and the shortage of workers in some fields. The second refers to a range of broader social considerations based on a desire to provide equal opportunity in the labor market to new population groups. . Sometimes these two motives are combined; but there is no doubt that if employing ultra-Orthodox workers was not profitable, there would be no move in that direction by the private sector,

The first motive-the shortage of workers in some positions- is a stronger impetus for recruiting ultra-Orthodox employees than the second. Nevertheless, many employers say that there is a higher risk involved with ultra-Orthodox workers. “If there is no real meeting of business interests, I tell you that it just isn’t worthwhile to embark on this adventure. […] Workplace diversity is not an important goal in and of itself.” Nevertheless, in light of the continued growth of the ultra-Orthodox community, and with its increasing public visibility, some employers in Israel, especially in areas such as Jerusalem- with a high proportion of ultra-Orthodox residents, have realized that they cannot allow themselves to ignore this pool of potential employees.

Main Findings

• In the business sector, the main motive for employing ultra-Orthodox workers is the economic incentive.

• The greatest obstacle to the integration of ultra-Orthodox in workplaces is social and cultural and the self-imposed isolation of some ultra-Orthodox workers from their colleagues. Employers also report that some of their ultra-Orthodox workers, especially those who are taking their first steps in the labor market, do not comply with established work norms, such as meeting deadlines and not staying away without a good excuse for the absence.

• In some cases, professional gaps between ultra-Orthodox and other workers pose a serious obstacle for employers, who must make a major investment of special inputs and resources for beginning workers.

• The findings of this and earlier surveys indicate that most workplaces with a diversified workforce do not make special accommodations for ultra-Orthodox employees.

• The successful integration of the ultra-Orthodox at the workplace requires cooperation and a strong commitment by management.

• The integration of the ultra-Orthodox in mixed workplaces is strongly dependent on the degree of acceptance and tolerance shown by employers, direct supervisors, and non-Haredi colleagues.

• In addition to the challenges and obstacles to the integration of the ultra-Orthodox identified in the study, non-Haredi workers mentioned many advantages of having ultra-Orthodox employees, including workplace diversification, exposure of other workers to positive social norms that benefit the business, the integrity and reliability of ultra-Orthodox workers, dedication to the job, and the ability to reach out to new groups of customers.

• Working with colleagues from the "other" sector bolsters social solidarity both within and outside the workplace and can break down the walls of polarization and narrow the social divide between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular.

Managers and employers (Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox reporting problems in working with ultra-Orthodox employees (%)

• Percentage of non-Haredi Managers (n=91) and Workers (n=429)

Advantages of having Ultra-Orthodox Coworkers, as Perceived by non-Haredim (%)

Recommendations for Employers

• Before hiring Haredi employees, employers must learn about the characteristics of the ultra-Orthodox community and its needs in the workplace. Integration of ultra-Orthodox workers requires advance logistic preparations. Employers and managers must define the limits of the accommodations and flexibility they are willing and able to provide. When ultra-Orthodox workers are hired and during their onboarding process, it is advisable to consult with professionals from inside and outside the community (especially when this is a new experience and a large number of new ultra-Orthodox workers are being taken on at the same time).

• There is a need to develop a culture of dialogue between managers and ultra-Orthodox employees and among coworkers from all sectors.

• Initially, ultra-Orthodox women should be hired in small groups of two or three at a time, to give them a chance to feel comfortable and integrate more smoothly into the mixed workplace.

• Management’s planned and active involvement in the hiring and onboarding of ultra-Orthodox workers is essential for the success and sustainability of the process.

Recommendations for the Government

• It is of utmost importance that relevant ministries adopt a clear, consistent, and active policy to raise the awareness of employers and employer organizations, including small and medium-sized businesses, of the importance of hiring and employing ultra-Orthodox workers.

• The government and its executive branches lack up-to-date and reliable data about the scope and nature of private sector employment of the ultra-Orthodox. We recommend that a survey of employers be conducted regularly in order to determine the scope of ultra-Orthodox employment in various economic sectors; this will provide a solid basis for refining government policy on this matter.

• Businesses and organizations that employ more than 500 workers should be required to appoint an employee to focus on employment diversification and provide managers with the tools they need for employing ultra-Orthodox workers.

• An Employers’ Covenant should be drawn up, in which entrepreneurs, managers, and employers from various organizations acknowledge the national importance of hiring the ultra-Orthodox and its contribution to the country’s economic strength and social solidarity.