The only way is up: Leaders back plans to help women reach the top

A raft of measures to increase the number of women holding top professional and lay posts in community organisations have been agreed by the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), other communal leaders and welcomed by the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP.

Central to the recommendations put forward by the JLC’s Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership (CWJL) is the establishment of an Equality Support Group to oversee progress by the main organisations in achieving gender equality.

Welcoming the broad range of cross-communal support for the initiatives that has already been secured, Commission Chair and Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies Laura Marks warned against complacency. She said: “The hard work starts here. The JLC trustees should be commended for initiating this important piece of work and we are delighted that its member organisations have agreed to lead the way in adopting its recommendations. However, this is only the beginning: the recommendations must now be implemented. As existing leaders, we should be held to account for turning words into actions - for the benefit of future leaders and the whole community.”

Ms Marks added:

The volunteer members of the Commission have also put in an enormous amount of effort and I would like to thank them for all they have achieved.

The introduction of the gender equality award for Jewish organisations, a training module to raise awareness, skills development courses for women, networking schemes and mentoring pilots are among the recommendations made by the CWJL following a year-long research and consultation process.

The Commission’s report, ‘Inspiring Women Leaders: Advancing Gender Equality in Jewish Communal Life’, stopped short of recommending the introduction of controversial quotas and targets despite the considerable support these measures received in its consultation survey earlier this year. Instead, the report proposes the establishment of an award ‘which recognises, through varying levels of achievement, organisations that move towards gender equality.’ The Award for Gender Equality will measure progress through a range of criteria, including recruitment policies for lay and professional roles and policies which ‘aim to accommodate the challenges faced by women in the workplace’.

The recommendations are divided into five broad categories: Governance, Personal Leadership Development, Networking, Communications and Other. The Equality Support Group (ESG), part of the CWJL’s Governance recommendation, will include an independent chair, the CEO of a communal organisation,  a JLC member, a CWJL member and a senior member of the Board of Deputies, supported by a part-time project manager. The Chair is likely to be appointed by autumn 2012.

The Personal Leadership Development recommendation incorporates a training module into existing community leadership programmes and will be run by LEAD, a division of the JLC, which offers leadership programmes and services to lay, professional and aspiring leaders. The module will be introduced to organisations through a training day to be held later this year. Other elements of the Personal Leadership Development recommendation include a pilot mentoring scheme for ten, high-potential aspiring women leaders and the introduction of a skills training course for communal professionals to run in spring 2013. This training will focus on certain key skills which are particularly beneficial for women working in professional roles in communal organisations, such as negotiation, fundraising, confidence building and advocacy.

The Networking recommendation acknowledges that women network ‘less effectively than men’ in a business context and proposes the establishment of several women’s networks, leading to the development of more over time. The New Leadership Network and TrainE-TraidE (see notes) are initially taking this forward.

The role of Jewish schools in breaking down gender stereotypes and a ‘specific issue amongst students’ were also highlighted in the report. Only three women have taken the role of UJS President in 30 years, demonstrating that this issue is equally relevant to our young women.

The report also states that issues relating to Halachic interpretation of Jewish law were ‘raised at all levels during the consultation’ and that although such issues were ‘beyond the remit’ of the CWJL, it intends to ‘stay connected to all sections of the community and the issues faced by women within them.’ As such the CWJL has not made recommendations at this stage on the topical issue of chairing synagogue boards.

The recommendations will be circulated to all regional Representative Councils including Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow and to other relevant organisations. The Board of Deputies has offered to take on a key monitoring role.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone MP, who voiced her support for the Commission’s work earlier this year, said she was pleased to see the Jewish community addressing women’s issues:

“I’m delighted to see the Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership taking action to help women reach the top. The Government is providing a range of support to help women achieve their potential, but we also need communities to play their part. A better balance of leaders makes for more successful organisations and a stronger society.”

Steven Lewis, JLC Trustee supporting the Commission and Chair of Jewish Care said:

The JLC is firmly committed to implementing these recommendations. The next step is to ensure that each individual proposal is taken forward as quickly as possible where possible via existing mechanisms, but where new ones are required we will ensure they are established.  We will be working very closely with the CEOs of the JLC member organisations to achieve this.

Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief, said:

The formal and informal consultation process, analysis, conclusions and recommendations from the CWJL have been incredibly thorough, professional and thought provoking. The process itself has already helped WJR think carefully about its governance representation and consider practical ways in which we can move towards gender equality.


Read a piece about the Commission by our CEO Jeremy Newmark in ‘The Times of Israel’.