The problem of income disparity in the world of Jewish organizations comes down to the question of value.
There is nothing wrong with CEOs being well paid if they are doing extraordinary work on behalf of their mission and constituencies. But what are these salaries actually based on? In the world of high finance, CEOs defended their outsized compensation because of the need to retain top talent. It’s worth asking the chief executives in our Jewish nonprofit sector: What value is the organization that you lead delivering in return for your median $306,000, top-federation-level $644,000 or breathtaking university compensation of $848,000? Let’s link compensation to impact — how clearly an organization realizes its vision and the continued relevance of its mission.
But the other vital issue at stake is that of values. We want our CEOs to be fairly compensated for their compelling ideas, outstanding fundraising ability, public profiles and relentless schedules. But what about those who staff the organization, from the senior management team down to the newest administrative assistant? Are they being well and fairly compensated for actually developing and implementing the big ideas and smart strategies?
Read the Forward’s special op-ed section on How to Handle Our 1%, including Leonard Saxe on Creating a Tax for Jewish Education, Moses L. Pava on Following Ethical Guidelines and David A. Teutsch on Training More Leaders
Let’s start with the gender gap. I have long been puzzled by the intractability of the wage differential between men and women. According to almost every study, women in the United States are paid 77 cents on the male dollar. President Obama referenced this gap in his recent State of the Union address and exhorted us to make good on our values of equal pay for equal work. Shouldn’t the Jewish community be in the forefront of this issue, given our history of fighting for fair labor practices? And yet, as the recent study by Steven M. Cohen for the Jewish Communal Service Association confirmed, the gender wage gap persists in the Jewish community. How does this inequity square with our Jewish values?
Surely CEOs who themselves want to be well paid will honor the same principle for their own staff. So it would make good sense for these CEOs to sit down with the chief operating officer and human resource administrators to check whether they are inadvertently complicit in the salary gender gap. For those who find this too daunting a task, look no further than Jennifer Gorovitz, the first woman to be appointed CEO of a large city federation. Despite the financial pressures in San Francisco’s Jewish community, Gorovitz analyzed the salaries of staff and then adjusted the salaries of three women professionals to meet the standard of pay equity. If we want to enact our Jewish values on the ground, this exercise should become standard operating procedure for every CEO.
Work-life policy offers another lens on values in the Jewish nonprofit sector. The majority of Jewish organization do not provide parental leave, claiming budgetary pressure. From our perspective, parental leave is not primarily about the money. Annual staff salaries are budgeted well in advance, and we have found that only in rare cases does an organization need to replace a staff member on leave. It is true that priorities may be recalibrated, certain tasks may be put on hold and roles may shift. But not for long, as smart CEOs know. In fact, any organization healthy enough to compensate its CEOs at the higher levels should be able to absorb the costs of parental leave. Amortized over the life of an organization, paid parental leave is a relatively modest investment that attracts the best and brightest and reduces expensive turnover.
Isn’t that why we pay CEOs so well — to attract and retain the best talent? We also expect these CEOs to embody the values of the organizations they lead. Those that offer paid parental leave convey a powerful message that means so much, financially and psychologically, to organizational staff, especially those on the lower salary rungs. Paid leave offers good value for any organization that espouses Jewish values around family, continuity and community.
When all CEOs of Jewish organizations close the gender gap in pay and enact first-rate workplace policies and practices, the focus will shift from their compensation to their contribution to Jewish agencies, to the not-for-profit sector in general and ultimately to our country’s collective good.
Shifra Bronznick is the founder and president of Advancing Women Professionals & the Jewish Community.