A Minority of Two

Last year at the UK’s Jewish Leadership Council we took what some described as a controversial step in launching a Commission to explore the reasons why not enough women were taking on senior leadership roles in the Jewish community, and to make recommendations for rectifying this. For many of us the need was clear. A community numbering around three hundred thousand that wants to maintain the vast infrastructure we have developed over 350 years of UK Jewish life can not afford to lose half of the talent pool.

It was, however, with some trepidation that I agreed to sit as one of only two male members of the Commission, together with Steven Lewis the Chairman of Jewish Care, one of our leading social care agencies. We are particularly proud that during the process the Chair of the Commission, Laura Marks was elected as the Senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The process has been an unprecedented success.  The Commission has delivered a raft of measures to increase the number of women holding top professional and lay posts in community organisations.  The findings were adopted and endorsed by our major communal organsations and were welcomed by the Government Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP. She said:

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.

Central to the recommendations we put forward is the establishment of an Equality Support Group to oversee progress by the main communal organisations in achieving gender equality.

We are very clear that this is only the beginning: the recommendations must now be implemented. As existing leaders of communal bodies, we should be held to account for turning words into actions.

We also proposed 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, among other recommendations made by the Commission.

Our 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 our consultation survey earlier this year. Instead, we have proposed 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’.

Our recommendations are divided into five broad categories: Governance, Personal Leadership Development, Networking, Communications and Others. The Equality Support Group (ESG), part of our Governance recommendations will include an independent chair, the CEO of a communal organisation,  a member of the Jewish Leadership Council, a Commision member and a senior member of the Board of Deputies.  They will be supported by a project manager.

Our 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 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 process and its impact was best summed up by Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief, who 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.

I knew that this process would be a bit different from usual Jewish community sessions when at an early meeting I was pulled up by some of the Commission members for ordering “non-female friendly” food for lunch. From meeting two, bagels were firmly off the table, but quotas and targets remained hot topics. I think that my fellow Commissioners knew that I had internalised the message when at the pre-launch staff briefing I pulled up a colleague for talking about “manning” rather than “staffing” the lobby area.  On a more serious note, we hope that this process will not only realise its potential to change UK Jewry for the better, but serve as a model of best practice around the world.

You can read the final report here.

About the Author
Political Consultant. Leader of Labour and Opposition Group, Hertsmere Borough Council, UK. Member of Labour Party Eastern Regional Board. Advises Governments, NGOs, Corporates and Individuals. Formerly Chief Executive of the UK's Jewish Leadership Council - the umbrella body for the major institutions of the UK Jewish community. Also formerly Spokesperson for previous UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks & Chair of The Jewish Labour Movement (UK)