Nearly 18 months since the #MeToo movement emerged, companies and organisations have begun to take a much closer look at their own policies on sexual harassment and gender equality. The Jewish community is not immune from having these issues, and it is something the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) is looking at closely.
Despite the #MeToo movement ripping off the initial plaster, we still hear plenty of anecdotes from women who privately describe what they can and cannot say about sexual harassment and gender equality in the workplace.
The first step is to update workplace policies and to set up the parameters for women to flourish in the workplace. Nevertheless, even when workplace policies are updated, and employees have been repeatedly told that forthcoming concerns and complaints will not be ignored, it means very little if there is a looming threat of repercussions.
We may be moving past the initial shock of gender inequalities and lack of reporting mechanisms for sexual harassment, but we find ourselves trying to navigate a space where employers have to balance workplace policies with a culture of openness, understanding and flexibility.
If there is no culture in which people feel safe to talk about their experiences and needs without being fearful of professional repercussions, what is the point? Are we failing to make written policies work before the ink has even dried?
The frustrating reality is that most women still cannot talk about gender inequality at work too much. We cannot be too critical of male-only spaces and highlight conversations that women are cut out of; we cannot talk too much about how difficult it might be to juggle care responsibilities, a challenge women typically face more than men. Why? It might make our employers, previous employers, colleagues (past, current and future) very uncomfortable to think that we could be talking about them and possibly even more uncomfortable to think that there might be more they could do to understand and help.
When #MeToo kicked off, for many people it felt like a weight had been lifted; that finally, taboo topics of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and inequality were out in the open, laid bare for everyone to see, to analyse, to reflect on and to address.
But on closer inspection, things are still not really out in the open. We don’t want to highlight the gender-related issues women face every day. Women don’t want to be treated differently and not get the promotion or be criticised for being critical and thought of as ‘slacking off’ if they need to work flexibly for care-giving.
The reflectiveness needed by our managers and colleagues to address this issue from all angles is the piece that still needs to be grasped.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ‘Balance for Better’, and we have to ask what exactly it is we are trying to balance.
The JLC’s event to mark International Women’s Day (tomorrow) this year took a deeper look at this question. The balance between policy and culture is one we also have to address so women can actually talk about the things they feel like they still cannot say.
This is a challenge for our community as much as it is elsewhere. Even when looking for examples of companies or organisations that show best practice in the area, it would seem there are few we could call on to lead the way.
At the JLC, we hope that by having the conversation about what balancing policy and culture in the workplace looks like, it will lead to meaningful change for women working in Jewish communal organisations.