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Foreign Investment: Pittsburgh's Business with Israel

Pittsburgh has a robust Jewish and Israeli community, with scores of programs, both social and academic, bridging the ocean. The relationship, however, is increasingly about business.



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Julia Poepping
 

In Tsofen’s first 10 years, more than 5,000 Arab-Israelis took jobs in high-tech, although much remains to be done. Equal representation makes a difference in many ways — some unexpected, one Tsofen staffer observed. During a recent flare-up in Gaza, Haifa Jews boycotted Arab-owned businesses. In Nazareth, at Galil, nobody quit or protested.
Julia Poepping — a self-described Army brat who moved all over the country before attending University of Wisconsin-Madison — moved to Pittsburgh in 1982 to work for PPG, where she spent her entire career.

“I have to say: I had a great experience. I had a number of strong, female bosses,” she says. “After 30 years, when I came out and looked around, I was very shocked. I took it for granted that I had these female bosses.”

To address that lack of women’s roles in technology and business, she founded RedChairPGH. The group provided nine leadership development scholarships for mid-career women in technology roles during 2017 and sponsored 18 in 2018.

“We really try to focus on building people up — it’s about being available and visible and sharing your story,” Poepping says.

To that end, she has a case example right here in Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University. Women accounted for more than 50 percent of first-year undergraduates in 2017-18 in CMU’s School of Computer Science. That more than beats the national average, which the Computing Research Association estimates is less than 18 percent of undergraduates at 121 computer science programs nationwide.

Also working on diversity issues in the local tech sector is Kelauni Cook, founder of Black Tech Nation. “We have an opportunity right now to be an example of true tech inclusivity,” she says.
 


Antoinette Murphy
 

Antoinette Murphy, “Toni” to her friends and colleagues, is an African-American woman and the vice president of Comcast Business in the Keystone region, which includes all of Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio and West Virginia, and the Maryland panhandle. She says on most occasions she is the only black female leader in the room.

“Pittsburgh — it’s a city full of eds and meds, it’s full of robust IT organizations and it’s part of a robust start-up community. But women, especially in the leadership ranks, are not equally represented,” says Murphy, a mother of three, who grew up in the Boston suburbs. “If women hold up half the sky, they should have an equal say in the future of Pittsburgh.”

Murphy says the region “has to be more intentional about what it means to make progress.” 

Part of that is encouraging a generation of women to get involved in STEM and fields where they, typically, have been in the overwhelming minority.

“That flexibility, adaptability — that’s the real currency,” she says. “How we mobilize people, that’s at the nexus of innovation, and how we treat this next generation of people.”  

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