The Rising of the Women

Once upon a time, there was prejudice toward women. But, with some exceptions, I can’t imagine that’s true today,” a male Federation CEO told Shifra Bonznicit as she was conducting a study of gender bias in Jewish Federations. The study, released in January, documents that not one female holds a top Federation executive position in America’s 20 largest Jewish communities.

The study was sponsored by United Jewish Communities (UJC) and Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP). Bronznick said that despite the unflattering light that the study has shone on UJC, the organization, to its credit, has made it a point to distribute the results to the over 150 Federations they represent around the nation. This time, Bronznick says, UJC is really committed to change.

So what’s keeping women from career advancement? Bronznick found that Federation leadership is a “leaky pipeline:” the lower in the ranks the position, the higher the representation of women. As a result, women are excluded from the decision-makers network. Bronznick said that almost every woman interviewed for the study felt the effects of the “old boys'” network.

“How does information about available jobs gel distributed and how do names of potential candidates get distributed? Guys sit around in a room and think of names, and the guys think of guys’ names,” said one senior female professional interviewed. (The study does not name names.)

The study also found problems among women working within Jewish organizations. Tensions often exist between full-time volunteers and working female professionals. Other women may feel uncomfortable advocating for women lest they themselves lose standing in the community.

In addition, women’s leadership skills aren’t recognized and a perception exists that women place their family needs above their careers, contributing to the bias embedded in the system.

Clearly, the study shows how much Jewish federations still need to do in order to level the playing field for women. But Bronznick is hopeful. She points out that some of the recommended changes are already underway. For example, she said, UJC’s next General Assembly, in which people from all over the country convene, will include a large number of women in prominent positions. AWP also wants to launch a pilot program for increased flexibility in the workplace for people with families.