The community needs more women leaders – and many believe that our organisations should be held to account to achieve this, a communal survey has shown.
The research, published by the JLC’s Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership (CWJL), reveals a powerful call for change, with 83% of those questioned identifying a need for more women leaders. The CWJL is in the process of drafting recommendations for a final report, due in July.
Approximately one in every three men who responded to the survey was a communal lay leader as opposed to approximately one in every five women, meaning that, if our data is to be taken as representative, almost twice as many men as women fill the top posts in Jewish organisations.
More than half of the respondents (56%) supported the introduction of targets, which would oblige organisations to work towards having a specific number of senior posts filled by women. Quotas, a controversial measure which ensures that a certain percentage of posts are filled by women, were supported by more than a third (35%) of those surveyed. Eighty-eight per cent (and 90% of women) believe that women should be able to chair their synagogue board.
More than 1,600 people responded to the survey, which was conducted to understand how British Jews perceive gender equality in communal organisations, to quantify the problem and to collect opinions about and strategies for change. It was distributed to 66 Jewish communal organisations to send out to the public and the SurveyMonkey weblink was shared by hundreds of people across social media.
While three-quarters of the respondents were women, there was little difference between male and female responses – indicating that this is not solely an issue for women. The survey was, geographically and denominationally, broadly in line with the population.
Encouragingly, the survey found that an overwhelming majority of our community is volunteering. Three-quarters (75%) of our sample said they hold voluntary roles in the Jewish community and 32% said they hold one outside the community. However, the results also highlighted some key differences in the voluntary roles carried out by men and women. Across almost all sectors, there are far more women holding the position of sub-committee chair – typically a ‘hands on’ coordination role - than men. By contrast, men were more likely to hold the influencing, decision-making posts of organisational Chair, Vice-Chair, Trustee or Governor. This difference was most pronounced in synagogue bodies and welfare organisations. The only sector to show gender parity was that of arts and cultural organisations.
When questioned on the possible benefits of increased female leadership, 81% of men and 93% of women believed that it would lead to a wider range of role models for young people. Sixty-eight per cent of men thought that Jewish organisations would understand the community better compared with 83% of women who clearly believe this to be essential). Fifty-three per cent of men felt that Jewish organisations might be better run (compared with 68% of women).
However, several issues did divide the genders slightly. When asked what makes a leader, men were more likely than women (9% compared with 5%) to think that ‘being the biggest funder’ was the definition of leadership. One respondent suggested that “until meritocracy replaces the ‘walletocracy’, this will remain a barrier.” Similarly, 7% of men, compared with just 1% of women, felt that men were ‘better leaders than women’, with 11% of men (compared to 6% of women) believing that women leaders ‘tend to be aggressive’.
Strategies for change generated greater consensus, with 80% of respondents believing that educating school children about gender equality would have an impact. Actively recruiting women for senior roles (80%) and the development of leadership programmes (80%) were also strongly supported, with mentoring provision (77%), the setting up of networks (78%) and childcare during meetings (73%) also felt to be helpful strategies.
Commission Chair Laura Marks, founder of Mitzvah Day, suggested that the survey reflected a growing urgency for change:
It is interesting to see such strong demand for organisational change even though quotas would be an extreme solution. As a first step, we will be encouraging all our communal organisations to demonstrate their commitment to increasing the number of women into leadership positions. Research shows that companies with more women leaders are significantly more effective than those without women on their senior management teams - a more gender-balanced leadership would make our community stronger. Clearly we have to address two issues: supporting women to stand up and take responsibility but also finding ways for our organisations to benefit from the talented women we have in our community
This survey is a clear mandate for change. We are working, as a Commission, to develop workable proposals which will benefit our communal organisations by drawing on the wide talent pool of women. We are listening and taking this issue very seriously
Norma Brier Independent Consultant for the Voluntary Sector and previously Chief Executive of Norwood, said:
The survey indicates that the community could be so much more effective, across almost all areas, with a better balance of women in leadership roles. It is imperative that we understand why women are under-represented and take positive action to break down the barriers. The ‘do nothing’ alternative would leave a disastrous legacy for our children
Leonie Lewis, Director of the Jewish Volunteering Network, said:
It is fantastic to learn from the Commission survey that three-quarters of our community are involved in volunteering in various ways, but it has also shed light on some inequalities in terms of the roles held by men and women. Men are tending to hold the decision-making posts while women are operating at a more hands-on level. We need to find ways to create more balance in this respect
 Using both the Commission’s and also self-defined definition of leadership.
 The exact number of respondents is 1636: 1166 women, 396 men. The remaining 74 chose not to disclose their gender.
 More gender-diverse companies (defined as the top quartile companies in terms of the proportion of women on their executive committees) exceed operating results (EBIT) delivered by those companies with no women on their senior management teams by an average 56%. McKinsey & Company: Women Matter: Gender Diversity, a Corporate Performance Driver , 2007