What has long been suspected is now documented—women social workers and fundraisers are not treated as the equals of men in professional Jewish community service.
29% of the men working in Jewish community service agencies are executives, but less than 1% of the women. One out of every four men in Jewish communal service earns over $30,000 a year, compared with one woman out of 500. In the highest salary brackets, over $40,000, it’s men only.
Clearly, women are not wanted in the top professional positions of Jewish community centers, Jewish federations, Jewish family and children’s agencies, Jewish homes for the aged and Jewish hospitals.
For most men, lower-level jobs are considered merely an entry point into the profession. For women, these same jobs are where the majority remain.
All this emerged from a year-long study showing that when it comes to power and pay, women professionals are very clearly discriminated against. The study was done under the aegis of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service (NCJCS), the professional organization for workers in Jewish community agencies throughout North America. Founded in 1899, its membership includes some 2600 individuals— approximately one-fourth women—from 310 organizations.
The NCJCS’s Committee on Opportunities for Women in Jewish Communal Service found that not only are the men at the top discriminating against women, but the attitude that women’s place is at the bottom is so deeply entrenched in Jewish agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada that some women themselves accept the unwritten policy that they should not be in decision making executive positions. Those few women who are executives are often paid lower salaries than men in the same positions.
The Committee on Opportunities for Women, consisting of approximately 15 women, many with decades of experience as professionals in Jewish agencies, collected data from 319 organizations covering 2,200 professionals. They concluded that “the appointment of agency executives is the culmination of a long process which has discriminated against women at every step from the earliest training stages to the final assignment to top positions.”
Of those professionals (mostly social workers, including group workers and family counselors, social planners and fundraisers), 54% were women and 46% men. According to the study, out of almost 1,200 women, 10. 0.8%) are executives; 45 (3.8 %) are assistant directors; and 95% are in the two lowest levels, with 24% as supervisors or department heads and 71.5% as line workers. “In sharp contrast,” the study found, “there is a fairly even distribution of men on the four professional levels.” 29% of the men are executives, 23% assistant directors, 25% supervisors and 22.6% line workers. Not surprisingly, 95 % of the women earn less than $20,000 a year, compared with 43% of the men.
Documenting women professionals’ second-class status in Jewish community service agencies started five years ago with the NCJCS Ad Hoc Committee on Obstacles and Opportunities for Women chaired by Sara Feinstein, then secretary of the executive of NCJCS.
Among those most involved in the committee, diplomatically renamed the Committee on Opportunities for Women, are chairperson Toby Weiner, Jewish Community Center, Wilmington, Del.; statistical expert Sophie Engel of the Community Planning Department, Council of Jewish Federations, located in New York City; Bessie Pine, Jewish Welfare Board, New York City, and Sarah Lederman, of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged in Queens, N.Y. (Agencies are given for identification purposes only—the women want it clearly understood that they are acting on their own, and not as agency representatives.)
The committee’s findings were made public at the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service annual meeting this past June in Washington, D.C. The Committee’s report concluded that breaking down career barriers against women “will require a change in attitude, not only on the part of the men in the professional and lay positions of leadership, but also on the part of women in seeking and accepting positions of leadership.”
According to one observer, the men attending the executive session, called by NCJCS president William Kahn to hear the committee’s findings, reacted “with the fervor of repentant sinners.” One man testified, “I have just hired a woman for a job that I would not have hired a woman for two years ago.”
Both Kahn, who is executive vice-president of the Jewish Community Centers Association in St. Louis, and NCJCS executive director Matthew Penn have been pushing for action on the committee’s findings.
Kahn, who is highly respected in the field of Jewish communal service, urged the men at the executive session, “Get this on your agendas…this whole issue must be faced head on…the executives are holding the marbles in this thing.” He suggested “executive and lay-board awareness sessions” and called for an active, positive approach, “not just sending a list of women to the head of personnel.”
Women involved with the report have reacted cautiously to the initial round of male support. Some feel that many of the men supporting advancement for women are not in positions where they do much hiring, or can effect change directly. They also fear that many men won’t bother supporting equal advancement for women since they know that the volunteers—both men and women—accept the status quo. Committee members are also concerned that currently when women are hired for administrative positions, they are hired because they will work for lower salaries than men.
The most encouraging recent development is Kahn’s appointment of Naomi Levine, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, as chairperson of the Commission on Equal Professional Advancement for Women in Jewish Communal Service. The commission will use the findings of the Committee on Opportunities for Women as the starting point for setting priorities and determining a course of action to combat the widespread discrimination.
Levine, one of only two women heading major American Jewish “co-ed” organizations, said she agreed to head the commission “because all the Jewish agencies, including the American Jewish Congress, talk very glowingly about commitment to equal rights for everybody, and I’d like to see some of that rhetoric translated into reality.”
She expects that the commission will number 25 to 30 members, at least half of whom will be male executive directors. Levine, a lawyer and a tough negotiator, said, “Maybe the agencies will adopt their own Jewish Equal Rights Amendment. My own idea is to meet with each agency individually, and if that doesn’t work, go through the courts. I’m as abrupt and as harsh as that. I believe in very direct negotiations, though I don’t know what the commission’s approach will be.”
One of those most involved in the committee’s findings, Sophie Engel, feels that follow-up will have to take a two-pronged approach: “First, reach executives to deal with the situation. NCJCS is a membership organization of professionals, not agencies per se. Second, sensitize women to the need to become more conscious of career goals.”
Direct follow-up may be necessary, as members of the Committee on Opportunities for Women are finding that the report alone is not enough to mobilize women to further their careers. Part of the problem is that women around the country don’t immediately identify with the statistics of discrimination or may act in ways to limit their own advancement. In the words of one of the committee’s early organizers, “Women won’t move, won’t relocate” (though hopefully this is a position that many women have moved beyond). Nevertheless, since the Washington meeting, according to committee member Jane Rogul, of UJA-Federa-tion Joint Campaign of Greater New York, “Even women who have been around for a long time feel more confident now in taking steps to push for women’s rights. For women in their late 50’s and mid-60’s, discrimination has already made an important difference in their pensions. Their involvement may reflect the fact that they themselves have suffered, professionally and financially, from discrimination against women in Jewish agencies.”
The committee’s next step in reaching women in Jewish community service agencies throughout the country is a newsletter to help build grass roots contacts in the push for change. Committee members Nancy Dallek and Jane Rogul have developed “Guidelines for Development of Local Task Forces” to evaluate the status of women in local Jewish agencies and plan for change.
Until the report from the Committee on Opportunities for Women in Jewish Communal Service, the issue of discrimination was debatable. With the clear-cut documentation of unfair treatment of women, the debate is over. Now it is up to the men—and the women—in these organizations to change some of their most basic modes of operation so that women professionals have the same opportunities as men.
Amy Stone is Senior Editor of LILITH. Based on reports by Helene A. Fisher and Susan Weidman Schneider.