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Bima

Jewish women have long been denied a place on the Bima from which they could state their views publicly and exercise leadership in the community. This column provides a "PLATFORM" for women to speak out on controversial issues affecting the contemporary Jewish community.

I am a lay leader who has held a number of jobs in Jewish philanthropy.

From time to time I have been a vice president of Federation and have served on its Executive Committee for a number of years. Two years ago I was appointed to the Allocations Committee where I am involved in the disbursement of over $30 million to homes for the aged, community centers, family and children’s agencies, vocational rehabilitation and training, medical care, camps, community relations and Jewish education. I serve on three of its sub-committees, which means that I am particularly responsible for the allocation of $4 1/2 million. Currently I also serve as Advance Gifts chairperson for the UJA-Federation Campaign which involves me with all gifts over ten thousand dollars. I am the first woman to be appointed to this position in the Campaign.

I watched for years in a rather detached way what was happening to professional women in the organization, but somehow I needed to be galvanized into action to do something to change the status of professional women in Jewish communal service. This happened when I realized that three volunteer women leaders headed the most important committees at Federation and yet not one professional woman was among the top executives. The president of Federation frequently boasted about his sex blindness, but I should have realized that only volunteers qualified for his type of myopia!

The professional woman with whom I was most directly involved was handling a job previously assigned to a man. After two and half years in her position, she began to receive the starting salary of her predecessor— which was considerably less than he was earning at the time she replaced him.

I started to dig a little deeper into the statistics on women in Federation and its agencies and discovered that, while women comprise at least half of the staff, less than 1% are executives, only 4% are assistant directors and 95% are in the two lower categories—24% as supervisors or department heads and 71% as line staff. I found that Collette Dowling’s The Cinderella Syndrome was absolutely correct about women. In the Federation, most of them “enter the work force with low-salaried jobs and creep upward—or sideways—like crabs on a string.”

Women earn relatively lower salaries than their male counterparts, regardless of the length of tenure and service.

The findings of The Task Force on the Role of the Jewish Woman in a Changing Society, in an analysis of the status of women (sponsored by the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies) which was prepared by Ellen Friedland-Molton, indicates that women generally have been employed at the agency for a greater—not a lesser—number of years than men, but their experience is not reflected in their salaries or positions. [in Kol Ishah—Ed.]

A contention that women do not seem or are unwilling to accept top level jobs because of pressures and strains that go along with excutive responsibilities has still to be proved as is the statement frequently made that there are insufficient numbers of qualified women. It is hard for me to believe that three lay women could make decisions in the most important areas of Federation work, while professional women are not regarded as equally qualified.

My next investigation took me into the conditions of work in our agencies, not only for women but for men as well. I found that over two-thirds of the national agencies provide maternity leave, although a number of them categorize it as disability leave! In a number of cases whereas an agency did provide maternity leave there was no established or written policy in this connection. As for paternity leave, one can only assume that Jewish agencies consider newborn babies to be the mother’s responsibility. Almost none of the agencies granted more than one week for paternity leave, and most of them just one day.

Many women I spoke to said they could continue to maintain the dual role of family and career as long as certain schedule adjustments are made. But I found that less than one-third of the Federation agencies have any sort of a flexible work schedule.

As for day-care programs only approximately 10% of the Federation agencies have any provision for day care. Where the agencies do have such a service it is part of an already existing program in a Jewish community center of camp and the majority of the day care services only have provisions for children who are older than three years. Unfortunately, initiating day-care when a child reaches the age of three misses the needs of working women, and maternity leave rarely permits a woman to take more than one year’s leave of absence. So in Jewish community service the working woman must choose between leaving her career, or trying to find an alternative way to have the baby cared for.

If we wish to foster a sense of children’s Jewish identity in a Jewish environment, it seems to me shortsighted and self-defeating to fail to give our own workers the opportunity to have their children nurtured in a Jewish environment. Since a good part of the Federation dollar is spent on enhancing Jewish family life, the maintenance of day care under Jewish auspices would be a very easy way of implementing that commitment.

It’s been said that women in the 1980’s work world are just about where Jews were in the 1930’s. Perhaps Jews are now accepted in places that they could not enter forty and fifty years ago because they opted for better education and better training, and seized the opportunity to let the public know when they did something well. This is a lesson that many women have yet to learn.

I am convinced that a good part of the problem is that women entering the field have not informed themselves as to the salary they should request. As women develop more skills, they develop greater sense of self and are more willing to represent themselves and speak out in their own behalf. Then it is only a question of time until secure women will help other women to achieve.

I hesitate to advocate affirmative action programs but if discrimination against women remains institutionalized in our society and culture, there will be no other option. Only nine Federation agencies out of the 84 which responded to the 1981 survey conducted by the Task Force on the Role of the Jewish Woman in a Changing Society have any affirmative action programs for the recruitment of women.

Lay women must begin to sensitize themselves and recognize wher professional women are in Jewish communal service. The lay women leadership have a responsibility to learn about the conditions of work. They must make it their business to find out about salary inequities if they exist and act as a protagonist for their professionals. It is frequently very difficult for a salaried professional to speak out in her own behalf; responsible volunteer leaders must reinforce the qualified professional in her demand for equality. We must see ourselves as employers, and make sure that the women our agencies emply are treated fairly.

The time to make our move is now. If we do not, we will all be much poorer for the lost talent of women who move into other fields of endeavor. We already face a problem of the outmigration of some of the best trained and most highly motivated women from Jewish professional life.

There is no reason why qualified women should not actively seek work in the Jewish community, as men do, knowing they’ll be valued, knowing that the return may not be quite equivalent in dollar terms but knowing that they will be recognized and rewarded fairly. As we work together to enhance the quality of life for other people, we should make sure that the quality of working conditions for women inside the community is worthy of the purpose to which it is devoted.