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Idea #25: Hold Jewish Leaders Accountable for Gender Equity

The Jewish community rightly holds its leaders responsible for managing complex organizational tasks. Yet when it comes to creating workplaces that routinely hire, advance and retain women in positions of authority and visibility, many leaders throw up their hands. So here’s a thought: Let’s all of us, leaders and constituents, stop acting like the advancement of women in Jewish communal life is impossibly complicated. If communal leaders follow these three easy steps, and all of the rest of us hold them accountable to committing themselves to concrete change, we will together improve Jewish organizations for women — and for men.

1. Leaders Should Conduct Internal Salary Audits

A 2004 study by Professor Steven M. Cohen and Judith Schor for the Rabbinical Assembly found that female rabbis earn $10,000 to $21,000 less than their male colleagues, even controlling for the size of congregation, the years of experience of the rabbi, and the hours worked per week. And a recent study, done by the Forward, found that female executives at Jewish organizations earn $0.61 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. The lay and professional leaders of such organizations would be well advised to follow the lead of the Rabbinical Assembly:Conduct a comprehensive salary audit within your organization. Then publicize, rather than obfuscate, the result, and and begin to remedy any inequities uncovered. This might not be a particularly pleasant organizational exercise, but think about it this way: Do you really want to be the executive director or board chair who routinely underpays your female employees?

2. Leaders Should Not Convene or Speak on All-Male Panels

A recent email from AIPAC proudly listed the featured speakers at its upcoming conference: 15 men and 0 women. When I went to the Web site for more information, I found a list of 9 men featured. Is 9:0 a better ratio than 15:0, I wondered. After many clicks, I found that the conference will in fact have a small number of female speakers in their break-out sessions — none as plenary speakers — three of whom are speaking on a panel titled “Women in Action: Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Pro-Israel Politics.”. I guess change begins at home?

But AIPAC is not alone. Organizations across the political spectrum, from start-ups to the well-established, regularly convene panels that are all male. When organizations convene all-male panels, or when leaders speak on all-male panels, they convey the inaccurate message that the thought leadership of our community is solely male.This harms women in many ways, and it also hurts our community as a whole. All-male panels make organizations look out of touch to the young people that these same groups need for their survival; after all, these young people grew up with female professors, clergy, political leaders, and working mothers.

Professional and lay leaders should make it organization policy to avoid convening all-male panels, and make it a personal act of conscience not to appear on a panel that does not have at least one woman.

3. Leaders Should Formalize Fair Family Leave Policies

I work for [Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community]. Our 2009 report, “Better Work, Better Life: Practices and Policies in Jewish Organizations,” revealed that 65% of the 227 Jewish organizations surveyed do not offer any paid parental leave — all the while their employees are hard at work presumably espousing such communal values as the sacredness of family life and the importance of Jewish continuity. Wow, that’s confusing!

The Jewish community is not alone in providing less-than-adequate parental leave. Frankly, it is too bad for all of us that we live in the only industrialized country that lacks a national policy of paid leave following the birth of a child. But the Jewish community has the opportunity to once again become a model in creating equitable workplaces — just as the Jewish leaders in the labor movement played a pivotal role in the standardization of other seemingly expensive and unpopular practices like paid overtime and workplace safety.

Professional and volunteer leaders alike should investigate the parental leave policy at their organizations, and work immediately to formalize a policy — if no such policy exists — and make it as generous as possible. Organizations as diverse as UJA-Federation of New York, American Jewish World Service, and Bikkurim have generous parental leave policies, despite facing the same financial challenges as any other non-profits. Maybe it is the rabbi in me, but I would say that it is always a good feeling to live by your own values. To be a leader, and be in a position to have those values reflected in the world? That is a privilege.

What about the Web site? Just as Charity Navigator and Guidestar rate organizations highly that comply with certain financial models, our community would benefit from publicizing organizations that are working effectively towards the goal of gender equity. A Web site that contains concrete information on how women are faring in our communal organizations would help the rest of us make important decisions our own affiliations.

Rabbi Joanna Samuels is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community. She is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

This post is part of the series “28 Days, 28 Ideas.” Be sure to check out yesterday’s idea “And now for something completely different: Inside the box” on eJewish Philanthropy and tomorrow’s on FederationConnection, the new blog of the Jewish Federations of North America. You can also visit for the full list of ideas as they progress.

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