WJL Campaign to End all Male Panels Goes Transatlantic

Women in Jewish Leadership (WJL) is in dialogue with its American counterparts as its campaign to limit all-male panels of speakers at communal events continues to gather momentum.

The move comes as a list published this week reveals that more than 50 senior figures are now backing the campaign to “try to avoid convening, speaking on, chairing or moderating all-male panels at communal events, with the aim of ensuring that equally-qualified women are included whenever possible”. The intention is to ensure diversity on panels and to raise awareness of the need for a range of voices, opinions and people to be heard in Jewish public life.

Laura Marks, co-chair of WJL and Senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies, comments:

I was struck by the recent comments of outgoing Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on multiculturalism. He emphasised the importance of valuing difference within society because communities benefit from the inclusion of different skills and mind-sets. This is pertinent because even if women often approach leadership and public roles more tentatively, we know from our research many still have an interest in leadership, in demonstrating their skills as experts or adopting high-profile roles. It is this assumption that they don’t, that we hope to address.

WJL has discussed its efforts with the well established women’s campaign group in the United States, Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP), whose ‘Men as Allies’ campaign is similar to that of WJL.

One key difference, however, is that the UK campaign has focused on gaining support in principle and raising awareness of the problem, whereas the US campaign has taken a more assertive stance, with signatories pledging outright to refuse to participate in male-only panels.

Laura Marks continues:

It is fascinating that whilst there are many cultural differences between the UK and US Jewish communities, women on both sides of the Atlantic face very similar challenges. The American campaign is more advanced and far-reaching than what we are currently doing here. However, we share a recognition that women need to be seen and heard on panels for other women to start to really believe that there is a place for them in Jewish public life and for the whole community to acknowledge our diversity of skills. Too often, women are just routinely overlooked – what message does that give to our daughters and sons in 2013? This unconscious bias needs to be tackled.

One challenge for Jewish communities in both the UK and the US is how to identify suitable women to take part in panels when there are currently so few visible role models – a ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

Founder & President of the AWP, Shifra Bronznick, states:

In America, we ask our male ‘pledger’ to work with the person who is inviting them to be on such a panel to identify women who could be invited in their place, or in addition to, themselves. A man who is being invited to speak is usually well-placed to highlight his less visible or well-known female colleagues. He can speak with a credibility that increases the likelihood that the recommendation will be dealt with seriously. It’s also the case that moving beyond the predictable and usual invited presenters often enriches the conversation with a freshness that is all too often lacking. Lastly, we advise organisers: when the category you have used to select speakers or experts results in an all-male line up – change the category.

In the UK, the WJL is seeking to address this problem by exploring how social media could be used to develop a visible, accessible pool of talented women who could participate in panels.

Several of the male leaders who expressed support for WJL’s campaign indicated that refusing to take part in all-male panels was a stance they had already consciously adopted in recent years, including Michael Wegier, Chief Executive of UJIA and Dermot Kehoe, CEO of BICOM.

Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive, WJR, said:

I certainly feel strongly that all male panels do not truly reflect or represent our wonderful community in their best light and that we should, wherever possible, seek to ensure women are included as critical and key constituents in such settings.

Dermot Kehoe, Chief Executive, BICOM, said:

It is already Bicom’s policy to have mixed panels whenever possible and we strive to ensure women’s representation – something I believe we have achieved in all our recent events. I’m happy to support your initiative on behalf of BICOM.

Judy Ironside, Founder and Executive Director, UK Jewish Film Festival, said:

I am delighted to confirm my support both personally and through UK Jewish Film and I would also like to highlight that, whenever possible, we always strive to avoid all male panels at UKJF and have done so for many years. We are really delighted that Women in Jewish Leadership has chosen to highlight this issue.

Lucian Hudson, Chairman of Liberal Judaism, said:

I would be delighted to support this initiative.

To see the full list of campaign signatories please click here.

Notes to editors:

1. The list so far of those supporting the WJL campaign has been published online at http://www.bod.org.uk

2. Women in Jewish Leadership (WJL) is a project of the Board of Deputies also supported by the Jewish Leadership Council. WJL has evolved to implement the recommendations from last year’s Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership which was set up by the Jewish Leadership Council in early 2011 to report on ways of advancing more women in to senior paid and voluntary roles in the community.

3. So far, the campaign has received 51 positive responses from a diverse cross-section of senior male and female lay and professional leaders, event organisers, and other organisations wishing to commit to this initiative.

4. The campaign has representatives from media, political, religious, youth, cultural and welfare organisations as well as a number of JLC and Board of Deputies leaders.