On the Beat: Murphy finds example of STEM success for women … in Palestine

Gov. Phil Murphy went on a nine-day trade mission overseas to find ways to help New Jersey improve its business climate.

He found a surprising example in the place many would have least suspected: Palestine.

During a roundtable with Palestinian business leaders at an event in East Jerusalem, Murphy was introduced to an engineering company where the majority of the engineers are women.

Murphy said he was stunned.

“This is fascinating,” he told ROI-NJ. “One of the most interesting conversations we’ve had while we’ve been out on this mission.”

Murphy pressed the leaders on how females operate in areas of great conflict and what obstacles they face by having (so many talented) women in their workforce.

As a woman listening to the conversation, I was struck by the irony.

The U.S. has no political conflicts — aside from party politics — but it struggles to attract women into the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Palestine, which operates under a daily cloud of conflict, has a significant number of female engineers — to the point where it is a problem.

What these female engineers must overcome would be unfathomable to many in the U.S.

For instance, when Murphy asked how the women are able to visit plants in the Gaza Strip, one business leader said it’s impossible.

The process to get there for anyone is complex.

First, employees who need to visit the strip require a permit from Israel. If they are lucky enough to get it, they will, once they reach the border, undergo a stringent security check — strip search included.

To think, we feel taking off our shoes to board an airplane is offensive.

After the search, employees must walk 1.5 kilometers from the checkpoint to the border of Gaza.

Time-consuming, to say the least.

Added to that, the permit doesn’t allow overnight stays except for in extreme situations, so employees must get back across the border that day.

But wait, there’s more.

The checkpoint closes at a certain time, so employees would be rushed to get all of their work done and then get back across before it closes.

Now comes the really impossible (if not unreasonable) part.

If an employee is an unmarried woman under 30, she is unlikely to ever get that permit. As it stands, fewer than 5 percent of all permit requests get approved.

For men or women.

Despite all this, females in STEM are still significant in Palestine.

We apparently have a thing or two to learn from them.

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip: