In 2001 when AWP was founded, women predominated as professionals in Jewish organizations, yet men occupied most of the top positions. After more than ten years of focused work, we can point to real progress, with more women at the helm of major foundations, social justice organizations, social service agencies, spiritual communities, and even in two of the largest federations. Still, men continue to serve as CEO's of 90% of the veteran national Jewish organizations and large-city federations.
AWP has found that gender bias pervades Jewish communal life. Our 2003 study of federations identified some of the key factors that impede women's advancement. These include the misperception that women are not "tough enough" to lead while women who are tough enough are seen as too abrasive. This bias also extends to questioning women's ability to solicit major annual gifts from male volunteer leaders. The weak human resources system, the challenge of work-life balance and the effect of the "old boys club" on executive search all add up to a leaky pipeline for talented women.
Through the efforts of AWP and others, the gender bias in Jewish organizations has been acknowledged by key decision makers. This opens up opportunities for women and men - volunteers and professionals - to work together for greater equity. But these efforts require long-term attention and resources to be successful. In other fields - academia, philanthropy and the corporate sector - sustained focus and funding has resulted in measurable change.
In the Jewish community, organizational support for gender equity initiatives has been very modest. Therefore, this next section focuses on strategies that can be used by individuals for their own advancement. Managers and executives who apply these ideas will help aspiring women fulfill their potential and will improve their workplaces for everyone.
A large Jewish organization asked me for a donation. I wondered why there were no women officers. The fundraiser said that their constitution, enacted more than 100 years ago, stated that women could not serve as officers. I responded, “The U.S. Constitution once denied women the vote, but Baruch Hashem, we now have amendments. Why not amend this constitution?” He answered that women could not serve for “halachic reasons.” I reminded the fundraiser that there is a major difference of halachic opinion as to whether women can serve as officers, and I added that any organization that denies the wisdom of 51% of the population cannot be as effective as it should be. I asked him to solicit me again when women were permitted to serve as officers.
Jewish women and girls need to be offered maximal opportunities in all spheres – their families, workplaces, schools, synagogues and communities. I want my tzedakah to reflect and buttress those values. So I support those organizations and programs that maximize the potential of Jewish girls and women.