Women lead­ers blocked by ‘cul­tural is­sues’

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

WOMEN ARE still not prop­erly rep­re­sented in com­mu­nal lead­er­ship roles, ac­cord­ing to lead­ing fe­male fig­ures. And this lack of di­ver­sity may be hav­ing a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the com­mu­nity.

As part of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, a num­ber of Jewish women re­flected on their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Clau­dia Men­doza, head of pol­icy and re­search at the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, said that a lack of flex­i­ble work­ing en­vi­ron­ments was stop­ping women from tak­ing up lead­er­ship roles in the com­mu­nity.

She said: “I’ve had two ba­bies since I’ve been in my role and I’ve been given all the flex­i­bil­ity I’ve needed to do that.

“I can grow as a leader in my role be­cause I’m given that op­por­tu­nity but I have had friends who work in the com­mu­nity who have had the

L-R: Laura Marks, Nicky Gold­man and Dina Brawer ex­act op­po­site. They are not given the flex­i­bil­ity to work around chil­dren, or mar­ried life, and they are over­looked for cer­tain roles or re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“When that hap­pens they end up feel­ing dis­sat­is­fied and re­sent­ing who they work for and leav­ing al­to­gether.”

Dina Brawer, the UK am­bas­sador for the Jewish Or­tho­dox Fem­i­nist Al­liance, said women in se­nior lead­er­ship roles needed to be “bet­ter rep­re­sented”.

She added: “The com­mu­nity is de­prived of women’s voices, per­spec­tives and tal­ent and is poorer for it.”

Mrs Brawer, who is cur­rently study­ing for or­di­na­tion at Yeshi­vat Ma­harat, the women’s sem­i­nary in New York, con­tin­ued: “There is a whole lot of noise emerg­ing from cer­tain Or­tho­dox quar­ters op­pos­ing fe­male re­li­gious lead­er­ship but I don’t take that as a per­sonal crit­i­cism.

“I just think they are wrong. The fact re­mains that I reg­u­larly speak about fe­male re­li­gious lead­er­ship to Jewish au­di­ences all over the UK as well as abroad and I am al­ways amazed by the en­thu­si­asm and en­cour­age­ment I re­ceive.”

Mrs Men­doza, who said she had ben­e­fited from tak­ing part in the Adam Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme, said she did not be­lieve or­gan­i­sa­tions should adopt quo­tas to get more women into lead­er­ship roles as they “don’t help things and can cre­ate more prob­lems. How­ever, she added: “I think it is im­por­tant to work with women, and to train them in lead­er­ship roles.”

“It’s not a pop­u­lar thing to say but men and women are dif­fer­ent. We have dif­fer­ent strengths and bring dif- fer­ent things to the table.

“A lot of women feel the pres­sure to act manly or be as­sertive in or­der to be a good leader. But if you have strong emo­tional in­tel­li­gence then that is a re­ally strong lead­er­ship skill too. We need to train women to har­ness what they have.”

Laura Marks, co-chair of the Women in Jewish Lead­er­ship group (WJL), which was orig­i­nally set up by the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil and sup­ported by the Board of Deputies, said the group had “done what it needed to do within its con­text.

“But that doesn’t mean there is not still work to do,” she said.

She said thanks to the group, whose work is com­ing to a close, “there is aware­ness of the need to have more women in lead­er­ship roles and aware­ness around the lack of them be­ing there.”

But she thought it was of­ten dif­fi­cult for women to take on such po­si­tions in the com­mu­nity, be­cause “it is a cul­tural is­sue”.

She ex­plained: “When you look at many faith com­mu­ni­ties, it’s our way of life, and tra­di­tions come in to play that stop women.”

The for­mer se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Board of Deputies and Mitz­vah Day founder said that when she left her job at the Board two years ago there were more women at the top of the or­gan­ista­tion than there had ever been.

But hav­ing women rep­re­sented as deputies has al­ways been a prob­lem for the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“I think the per­cent­ages have gone down even more now. We need to look at why that is hap­pen­ing.”

And she re­vealed that she avoided feel­ing over­looked or shut out in the com­mu­nity by cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for her­self.

“I like set­ting things up so I have man­aged to by-pass the male mech­a­nisms in place” she said.

Nicky Gold­man di­rec­tor of Lead, the JLC’s train­ing di­vi­sion, said that she had only ever been sup­ported to be a leader and that “see­ing other women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions en­cour­ages oth­ers to do it.”

“The com­mu­nity lead­er­ship looked very dif­fer­ent when I started out in my ca­reer. There were very few women,” she added.

“But I was al­ways a bit of a fem­i­nist and I thought ‘I can do it any­way’.”

A lot of women feel the pres­sure to act manly’

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