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Women and Power

A major new study released in February reports that women make up only 25% of the boards of American Jewish organizations and still face obstacles as board members. The study, commissioned by Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, is entitled “Power & Parity: The Roles of Women and Men on the Boards of Major American Jewish Organizations” and looks at leadership and power in 45 national Jewish organizations, from the Orthodox to the Reconstructionist to the non-religious.

Noting that the “power of the American Jewish community is concentrated in a network of national boards,” the study based its findings on 1994 figures and found:

  • Of the 45 organizations studied, only four had boards comprising more than 50% women.
  • Of the 41 co-ed organizations studied, only five had a female president, a volunteer position.
  • Of 30 organizations who responded to questions about their salaried staff, only one had a woman in the highest salaried position. More than half had no women in their five highest salaried positions, though women made up two-thirds of the employees.

The finding that is likely to carry the greatest implications for the future of Jewish organizations (and a prediction that echoes LILITH’s own anecdotal findings of the past several years) is that younger business and professional women are not being recruited into the leadership positions they should be occupying—with obvious negative consequences for the community. The study reports that “full-time employed women—the fastest growing segment of Jewish women in the country—are the least powerful of all board members.” They are least likely to become officers, least likely to serve on multiple boards, and are “among those who rated themselves lowest on a table measuring self-perceived influence,” the study found.

There is an “overriding need for change in the way boards can and must work with women to ensure there is a next generation of leadership,” said Ma’yan director Eve Landau. Ma’yan plans to follow the study with programs in the Jewish community to address the situation.