Judith Flacks-Leigh

Creating equity is about more than leadership

When our communal organisations began marking International Women’s Day a few years ago – and by marking, I mean at minimum, acknowledging it on social media and at most, holding an event to provoke discussion – it was ground-breaking. We were, and still are dedicating time, space, and actual resource to having these conversations. For one day only.

For one day a year, we now get very excited about whatever hashtag has been decided on, spread it around, and this becomes our regular engagement with women’s progress for the year. This is the nature of awareness days, but we should always be left asking “what next?”. We have the energy and engagement. What are we doing with it? Furthermore, how do we make it last beyond a day?

I remain optimistic that perhaps this year could be different.

It has now been over a decade since there was a serious study in to advancing gender equality in Jewish communal life, which in 2012, saw the Jewish Leadership Council support a Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership to produce a report on the issue.

We are undoubtedly now in a different place. You only have to look around to see that there are more women CEOs and trustees in our community and the make-up of senior leadership across so many areas is greatly improved on what it was all those years ago. (The diversity of our leadership in almost all other areas still leaves much to be desired.) That is progress from what the Commission revealed back then, but what does progress look like now and for the next ten years?

There are so many things which now impact our ability to organise and engage with women we would never have reached a decade ago. Social media is a million miles from where it was then, the #MeToo movement caused tidal waves throughout workplaces worldwide, our eyes are more open (although not open enough) to the heinous murders of people like Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, and the pandemic, for many, completely shifted how we view and approach flexible working and balancing caregiving responsibilities.

This is progress but it isn’t enough. At very least, we can take another look at what is going on inside our own community. The last commission focussed on formal leadership, but what about those who aren’t in leadership positions and don’t want to be? Or grassroots initiatives and informal leadership? The list goes on.

I strongly believe that we have stopped paying attention to women’s issues in our community.

I’m not suggesting another commission, but our community does need to look at what spaces have we created for women to flourish, to gather, and to challenge or discuss gender related issues.

Who is responsible for creating those spaces? What do they look like? Are they already there? If they are there, how can we work together to strengthen them? You’ll notice I ask a lot of questions here. Without directing them at anyone in particular, it is fair of you to ask what I’m asking for.

I strongly believe that we have stopped paying attention to women’s issues in our community.

Before the pandemic, I was part of a small group of women, all under 35 at the time, not all CEOs or trustees, who met to discuss what our respective organisations could do more of to support women in the workplace. The pandemic then hit and put an immediate spanner in to our conversations and plans, but right from the off, we knew we needed support for the space we had created and the ideas we had.

Support and encourage grassroots initiatives and conversations around gender equality in our community, don’t just focus on creating and supporting women in leadership.

This group of women trying to make a difference didn’t need empowerment, it didn’t need leadership, it needed support from those who already have funding, influence and support structures around them.

That’s my ask of whoever is reading this. Support and encourage grassroots initiatives and conversations around gender equality in our community, don’t just focus on creating and supporting women in leadership.

There is more to creating equity in our community than encouraging women into positions of authority (although, of course, this remains incredibly important). Imagine the scale of change we could see if more women across our organisations and institutions were supported with their ideas and listened to, whether they are in a position of leadership or not.

Imagine what could change if the right spaces were created to hear them.

Let’s widen the arena and open the conversation. Let’s utilise the reach and awareness we didn’t have ten years ago. If we don’t act to support women at a grassroots level rather than just in leadership and look again at what progress we now need to make, this conversation will arise again with a similarly catchy hashtag, and we’ll be asking exactly the same questions.

I don’t think any of us who truly value the future of our community want that to be the case.

About the Author
Working and volunteering in the Jewish community paying close attention to communal campaigns, youth, female leadership, and community development.
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