Gender equality should be promoted in Jewish non-profit organizations: opinion

As a woman who has served for many years in professional roles in the Jewish world, in addition to being a lay leader and chair of the board of a Jewish day school, I approach the issue of gender equity and respect from an experience perspective and optimism. .

Experience has shown me that perhaps the single most important factor contributing to the success of an organization is the strength of the relationship between top professional and lay leaders. I have called this relationship a “sacred partnership,” one that allows for sanctifying and elevating community work as both partners recognize that they are committed to the holy work of building a stronger Jewish world. Gender is an undeniable factor in the nature of that relationship, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. In fact, the recent report from the Leading Edge organization on the gender gap in Jewish nonprofit leadership includes examples of actions taken by organizations to create gender equity in the field.

My optimistic outlook stems from the firm conviction that the intentional behavior and attitudes of senior leaders can influence the whole of an organization. I have witnessed a growing number of examples of women serving important roles on boards of directors and as professionals breaking down traditional gender stereotypes and assumed skill sets. From a leadership perspective, gender is just one of many factors that contribute to the dynamic relationship, and there are clear and intentional approaches that leaders can take to create a more equitable environment.

I believe in three intentional approaches that contribute to stronger partnerships and are especially helpful in promoting gender equity and respect. Below, I will illustrate each of these approaches with personal reflections and observations.

1. Self-awareness: everyone has some abilities that come naturally and others that can be improved with effort. When leaders are aware and transparent about their own areas of strength and where they need to develop skills, they can invest in areas of learning. Trust defines an effective lay-professional relationship, as well as a shared vision and clear role expectations. To grow, each partner must commit to understanding and respecting the other, sharing and receiving helpful feedback, creating a safe space to explore opportunities for personal and professional growth to advance the vision and goals of the organization together as a team. This can go a long way towards eliminating perceived strengths and challenges based on gender.

Members of the LGBTQ + community and supporters participate in a protest march in support of the transgender community, in Tel Aviv on July 22, 2018 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER / FLASH90).

As I grew in my professional leadership roles and also as a lay leader, I recognized that I needed to develop my skills around financial management. I didn’t need to know everything, but I had to develop some literacy and then trust those around me who were more skilled. On the other side of the relationship, a lay leader that I worked with for many years as a professional was seen as a great relationship builder, creative program planner, and excellent at event management. To facilitate your growth in leadership, we intentionally worked on how you could grow as a strategic and visionary leader. She had a lot to contribute, but her voice was often not sought out in this way. This is an area of ​​challenge for many women as leaders, and it can only be changed through awareness and intentional growth.

2. Recruitment process: As in many relationships, a contract can be used as a means of establishing agreed parameters in order to establish clear shared expectations. A contract between a professional and a lay leader may include the identification of responsibilities and decisions that are professionally directed and those that are decisions to be made by the chairman of the board and the board. Other areas outlined in the agreement could include preferred communication methods (email, phone, or text message), establishing regularly scheduled checks, and setting limits for personal time.

One of the beautiful aspects of the Jewish world, and one that is discussed as a benefit and challenge of Jewish community work in Prizmah’s report on board leadership, “Unlocking Leadership,” is the way personal lives and professionals often intertwine. As an individual, I am able to participate in a Jewish community event alongside lay leaders from the organization in which I serve as a senior professional. Agreeing on times that are “no business talk” situations will help everyone navigate these sometimes challenging boundaries and allow for a more trusting relationship.

3. Model Mindset: We often hear about how leaders should set an example of good behavior. Attitudes towards gender equality and respect are transmitted in all sorts of ways that have been documented: who installs and cleans a room, who takes notes, etc. It’s easy not to meet gender expectations, but it can also be easy to break those patterns and model more balanced and respectful dynamics.

Early in my career, I was at work late into the night preparing packages of supplies for an event, and the male CEO, coat on as he walked out the door, stopped to ask what I was doing and sat down. to help me get the information. work done. I still remember it many years later and try to emulate that kind of practice, knowing that as a high-level professional, I am watched by employees in my organization and I have a responsibility to set a positive example. When leaders recognize that their influence extends deep within and beyond their organization, they can help change stereotypes.

Being intentional as a leader means taking responsibility for the results we want to see, both for our organizations externally and for our leaders internally (this is the first “cornerstone” that is addressed in the Leading Edge report). Board chairs and leading professionals together have the opportunity and obligation to adapt these practices to be more intentional, especially as we continue to break gender norms. As a result, your relationship will be more stable, your impact on your organization much more enduring, and the Jewish communal world will continue to advance the way we handle gender equality issues, allowing both leaders and organizations to prosper and succeed. .

The writer is director of operations for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

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