Shul Leadership: a Women’s Space

Jo Grose, Head of Strategic Review Implementation, United Synagogue


A month or so ago I chaired a small meeting of community chair people.  It was an open, positive, collaborative encounter where the discussion was forward-thinking, ideas were shared generously and I left with a list of ways in which we, at the US Centre could improve our practice.  Driving home it occurred to me that vast majority of the leaders present at the meeting were female.  It might not sound remarkable but it is a sign of how far we have come from those photos of top-hatted, besuited all-male line-ups.

At present 13 of our communities are chaired by women with many more acting as vice chairs.  Whilst, this is a good step forward, we still need to do more to ensure greater diversity amongst our local lay leadership. 

Successful communities make space for everyone to belong and to participate.  Every week hundreds of women play active lay roles in our communities - as volunteers, chesed coordinators, teachers and youth workers. However, proportionally fewer are Board members and particularly Honorary Officers. It goes without saying that our communities will only succeed in remaining relevant, vibrant and dynamic if their leadership reflects those they serve - and those they wish to engage.

My call to communities is to make sure that you nurture the emerging female leaders in your communities, consider times and lengths of meetings, actively ensure that there are women on your HO body and be mindful not to give the impression that shul leadership equates to shul politics.  ‘I don’t do politics’ is one of the main reasons women give for not getting involved. 

If we want to ensure that our communities are vibrant spaces for all and that we address issues that particularly matter to women we need more female local leaders. 

Let’s aim to put all-male Boards and Executives  in the cupboard with the unworn top hats and press for more change.