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Discrimination Against Women Educators

A study by the American Association for Jewish Education revealed that the small percentage of women in supervisory jobs in the field stems both from discrimination and from women’s response to it.

The survey took the form of a questionnaire sent to women educators in the metropolitan areas to determine why only 10% were working as principals, supervisors and education directors. Published in December, the survey eliminated as reasons the lack of adequate training and the superior qualification of male candidates for such jobs.

The major problem women educators face, said the study, was that they were simply not taken seriously by their male colleagues and superiors. As one woman said, “The innovative and expert skills of well-educated and efficient women are being misused by male superiors who think of them and treat them as ‘girls.’ “The survey’s conclusion was that there were two types of discrimination: “perceived discrimination” against women who aspire to high level positions in Jewish education and, in a sense, self-discrimination by women themselves, who rule this type of work out because they hold traditional Jewish concepts of the role of women, have higher personal priorities involving family, have a lower self-image, and feel their opportunities for training to fill these positions are limited.”

The study uncovered five major reasons for the failure of women to advance to positions of greater authority in Jewish education:

* The regarding of women teachers as volunteers rather than professionals and expecting them to accept lower salaries

* The traditional bias against women’s studying certain classical Jewish texts which are often the prerequisite for higher positions

* The combining of the role of synagogue education director with that of Assistant Rabbi, a title few women have, and none in the Conservative or Orthodox communities

* Fears by many women that additional responsibility will interfere with their family lives

* Concern by women about their ability to be sufficiently assertive in dealing with rabbis and other synagogue officials.

As a result of this poor treatment of women teachers, the study pointed out, many of the most talented and educated women are opting for careers outside of Jewish education, which offer them both higher status and salaries.

In order to remedy this situation, the study recommended that “the entire structure of Jewish education must be upgraded and professionalized. Relevant standards should be established and strictly adhered to when personnel for Jewish schools are being hired.” It concluded:

“If Jewish education is to become the force in Jewish life that it should be, the talents of half the Jewish population must be utilized optimally. Women must be given access to leadership positions so that the best qualified will seek them. Women should be encouraged to re-evaluate their own views of themselves in the light of the contribution they can make to Jewish education. Finally, women as well as men must feel that they are participating as leaders in the most important profession in Jewish life, education, and not in an activity which is held in low repute. Otherwise, our children and our future are indeed being shortchanged.”