Fight for equal­ity

Why women must be­come lead­ers

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - CLAU­DIA MEN­DOZA

THE RE­CENT furore over the num­ber of women present —or rather, not present — at the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil’s an­nual meet­ing with the Prime Min­is­ter has raised many im­por­tant ques­tions. As the JLC’s Head of Pol­icy and Re­search, I have led the prepa­ra­tion for this meet­ing mul­ti­ple times and so have keenly fol­lowed the cov­er­age sur­round­ing it. Crit­ics of the meet­ing, while un­doubt­edly well-in­ten­tioned, have missed the point.

Those up­set about the gen­der bal­ance at the meet­ing are right to be. But the knee-jerk crit­i­cism of the JLC that en­sued has de­tracted from the real prob­lem, and pre­vented an im­por­tant de­bate from emerg­ing on this sub­ject.

The poor ra­tio of women to men is a re­flec­tion of the com­mu­nity’s lead­er­ship as a whole, not that of the JLC, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that rep­re­sents its mem­bers. In­deed, it was the JLC that un­der­took an ex­ten­sive study in 2012 to ex­am­ine this very is­sue only to dis­cover that the Jewish com­mu­nity is not out of sync from where so­ci­ety is as a whole, but sim­ply demon­strates its own idio­syn­cra­sies. Re­form is needed all round.

If we want more tal­ented women to step up, we need to look at what’s hold­ing them back. As a com­mu­nity, we should be men­tor­ing as­pir­ing fe­male com­mu­nal lead­ers, both lay and pro­fes­sional. The lead ‘‘En­vi­sion’’ pro­gramme — which I par­tic­i­pated in — brought to­gether fe­male com­mu­nal pro­fes­sion­als to learn new skills and over­come work chal­lenges. Meet­ing other women work­ing in the com­mu­nity and dis­cussing the chal­lenges we face was hugely ben­e­fi­cial. Learn­ing how to fund-raise, speak in pub­lic, or net­work, as well as be­ing en­cour­aged and sup­ported to find a men­tor, ac­tu­ally added value and helped boost work con­fi­dence.

In re­cent com­ments, Laura Marks ref­er­enced two events at which the (male) speaker had to prompt the women in the au­di­ence to ask ques­tions. As she rightly points out, there are ar­tic­u­late and in­tel­li­gent women wait­ing to be heard. Why not use our col­lec­tive en­ergy to pro­mote or cre­ate pro­grammes which help women to gain con­fi­dence in in­tim­i­dat­ing sit­u­a­tions?

I’m for­tu­nate to have had tremen­dous sup­port from my Chair­man and my CEO while on ma­ter­nity leave. They have en­cour­aged me to come back with all the flex­i­bil­ity I re­quire. Sadly, this is not al­ways the case, so if we want to see women thrive in the Jewish com­mu­nal work­place, this is one of the is­sues that must be ad­dressed.

I have yet to find a com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fer­ing more than statu­tory ma­ter­nity pay, for ex­am­ple. I would like to see a crèche for com­mu­nal pro­fes­sion­als with young chil­dren — usu­ally women, de­spite wel­come de­vel­op­ments in shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Th­ese are pri­mar­ily so­lu­tions for pro­fes­sional rather than lay lead­er­ship gen­der im­bal­ances, but change in one area will help spur it in the other.

Un­for­tu­nately, too of­ten, those be­moan­ing the lack of women at the top ta­ble of Jewish com­mu­nal lead­er­ship are guilty of es­chew­ing pol­icy sug­ges­tions for easy head­lines. This news­pa­per is not im­mune from crit­i­cism on this point. By list­ing all the fe­male board mem­bers on the JLC’s mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions who could have been sent ‘‘in­stead’’, it has fallen foul of the trap of sug­gest­ing that women merely need to show up in or­der to be con­sid­ered wor­thy of at­tend­ing one of the most im­por­tant meet­ings of the year. We wouldn’t ac­cept such a stan­dard for men — and in­deed the in­clu­sion of cer­tain at­ten­dees was picked over in the me­dia — so why would we do so for women with­out un­der­stand­ing what role each of th­ese very tal­ented peo­ple per­form on their re­spec­tive boards?

I can think of ex­am­ples where un­der-qual­i­fied women have been cat­a­pulted into se­nior po­si­tions be­cause it was the “right thing to do” in or­der to ad­dress un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This does not pro­pel women; rather it sets them up to fail, per­pet­u­at­ing the myth that women are not up to the job. Women, like men, should be hired on merit.

Ul­ti­mately, if women are to lead, we need to im­ple­ment real poli­cies rather than mak­ing to­ken ges­tures. As with all last­ing and suc­cess­ful change, we need re­form, not rev­o­lu­tion. If the de­bate around the Prime Min­is­ter’s meet­ing can spur this process, then it will have been worth hav­ing.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Bi­ased: a re­cent meet­ing with the Prime Min­is­ter led many to sug­gest the JLC needs re­form

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