Yesterday, I attended and presented at the Temech Conference for Women in Business. The conference is in its fourth year and geared toward religious women in business. Most of the nearly 500 women in attendance were ‘Haredi’. (This post will not be about what makes one Haredi, let’s just say that most women there would identify themselves as such, but many like myself and colleagues of mine in attendance, do not.)
The conference had two tracks, Hebrew and English, with content designed to help businesswomen run, market and grow their businesses, as well as deal with the challenges of being religious married mothers with businesses to run, market and grow.
While there were things here and there that rubbed me the wrong way (I wouldn’t be me if there hadn’t been), overall the conference was professional, took itself and its participants seriously, had relevant content for its audience and delivered what it promised – all important for a conference, and what its attendees deserve.
What struck me was the dissonance between what I felt the average Israeli might think a conference for Haredi women would look like, and what it actually was. I saw women who were put-together, serious, accomplished, eager to learn, succeed, and share with one another. I saw acceptance of those not necessarily exactly like themselves. And I saw a certain camaraderie – a sisterhood if you will.
English language keynote speaker Jamie Geller spoke of her personal journey as well as the building of her business and brand – and she was fabulous. People connected with her personal story and the savvy way she decided on and built her business – adding a new angle on an almost overdone theme. We were inspired and excited and we related.
Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi held the audience captivated with her soft spoken but incredibly poignant (and hysterical) speech filled with Torah, anecdotes, life lessons, commiserations and inspiration. It would be hard to walk away from the day without feeling armed to take on your personal and business challenges and make the change you want to see in your world.
I want to stop here a moment and address the planners of the upcoming President’s Conference ‘Tomorrow’. Out of 26 plenary speakers, three are women. To them I say- “Listen up! Women are VITAL to any conversation about tomorrow!” In fact, I’ll go a step further and tell you that a conversation about tomorrow that lacks a large female voice is frankly – worthless. And that party line about not finding qualified women blah blah blah… One does not need to be a high powered CEO (male or female) of a high tech company to have valuable input on where we are going. People on the ground, people in the trenches, insightful people that see trends, see what’s going on with the next generation, that work with the very people whose futures you are contemplating, THEY are the people you need to be talking with. You want change? You must include the people who make it, even if they aren’t well paid or famous…
Back at Temech where most speakers were women, I facilitated a networking session, as well as ran a workshop on creating one’s brand. Both of these gave me the opportunity to hear from dozens of women running various businesses. (By far the most popular was the woman who ran a cleaning service. Her cards were snatched up like chametz after Pesach.)
From interior design to occupational therapy, from book editing to running a health food store, from a psychologist with 40 years experience to a young woman wanting to open a hotline for young women who have everyday questions but no one to ask – I saw intelligent, dedicated women who wanted to succeed. And they want to do it within the boundaries that their chosen lifestyle creates for them.
It is challenging enough to be a woman in today’s world. Add to that a business owner. Add to that a religious business owner who is more often than not a wife and mother! These women who want to succeed deserve a place to learn how to do so. They deserve a voice and they deserve our support.
Many people want to see change in Haredi society – and it does need to change. While some who support this conference – as well as many who attend – do so in order to maintain the status quo within the Haredi world of women working to support their learning husbands, others know the need for change, both economic and societal.
For those who want to see change, but do not want to see it happen in the context of a civil war, we must support this change on the inside as well as calling for change from the outside.