Women Still Not Integrated as Leaders

A study of 48 Jewish organizations in the Philadelphia area reveals a gradual increase in the percentage of women in the leadership of Federation agencies and coed groups, but no substantive improvements in the employment of women in top executive positions there over the past decade.

At the same time, the study shows “a trend away from the dominance of the counterpart system” in which the main organization is run by men and there is a women’s auxiliary or division. By 1984, the American Jewish Congress had gone coed, and B’nai B’rith was struggling with the issue.

“Bringing Women In” was conducted by Dr. Rela Geffen Monson, Professor of Sociology and chairperson of the faculty at Gratz College, as a follow-up of her 1974 study along the same lines. Both were sponsored and made public by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

Monson stressed that “complete integration of women into the system has not been achieved.” While 10 years ago, women sought access to the boards of Federation agencies, today they are seeking access to the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee of the Federation itself. “This has now become the new citadel to be stormed for that small group of women who have already reached the highest levels of power and decision making within individual agencies,” she said.

Moreover, Monson noted, “the growth of numbers of women in executive or professional positions has not kept pace with that of lay leaders.” Just two Federation agencies out of 19 have female executive directors today, both of them agencies dealing with family and child care.

There was, the report showed, a greater diversity in the types of committees women currently chaired as volunteers—urban affairs and community relations in addition to the more traditional ones such as catering and education.

How do these findings for the Philadelphia area relate to the national picture?

A recent study on ‘The Place of Women in the Leadership of Federations,” by Barry A. Kosmin and Jeffrey Sheekner, published by the Council of Jewish Federations in November 1986, surveyed the same basic period (1975-1985). The study showed that “the most dramatic changes in the period since 1975 have been the growth of women presidents and treasurers. There are now three times as many women presidents as 1975 so that today one in five of Federation presidents are women. The growth in the number of women treasurers is even more dramatic.

Nevertheless, “The Board position with the highest percent of women is that of secretary (54.4%), where a majority are now women. Overall the proportion of women in the governance of Federations, the combined total of officers and Board members, has increased by 66% from 17.3% of all Board members in 1975 to 28.8% in 1986.”

The study breaks the data down into specific committees and various city sizes and reports respondents’ comments on community attitudes toward women’s participation and on married couples’ participation in Federation governance structures, but it does not discuss the current situation of women in Federation executive and professional positions.