By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D.
Two years ago, after uploading an album from what I considered a successful Career Up Now pilot at the intersection of Real Estate/Finance and Jewish wisdom, I received pushback on my Facebook wall from my colleague Sheila Katz that struck me hard. It was along the lines of, “your program looks great! Where are the women?”
As a startup entrepreneur, focused on creating meaningful Jewish learning experiences for young Jewish adults at the intersection of applied Jewish wisdom and career advancement, I was consumed by designing programs, refining our idea, securing funding, recruiting, and writing curriculum. Although I believed that gender equity and balance were important, unfortunately, it wasn’t at the forefront of my design strategy.
In addition, since many of our programs served emerging professionals in male-dominated industries (Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Real Estate, and Finance), the gender-balance recruitment odds were stacked against us.
After Sheila’s pushback, and as a determined individual dedicated to creating simple solutions to complex problems, I set off on a two-year journey to ensure equity and balance in all that we do. Here’s what happened.
What Didn’t Work?
My first step was reaching out to women’s organizations with the idea of partnering. I found, that while they indicated they were happy to partner, these partnerships didn’t push our gender balance needle. I needed immediate and exponential growth.
My second step was seeking advice from women leaders in the for and nonprofit world. Once again, I found they gave advice as to why it was important but didn’t provide connections or suggestions beyond “partnering” and “collaboration” to make it happen.
At worse, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, I received frustration filled responses to my inquiries such as “Leave women’s programming to the women,” and “We don’t need another man telling us what to do.”
Though I encountered obstacles, I knew, for the sake of the young-Jewish women in the Career Up Now community, and for the organization itself, that gender equity and balance would be critical to sustainable success. I kept hearing Rabbi Tarfon, my ancient Jewish cheerleader and rebbe say, while you don’t have to achieve full gender balance, you are not free to desist from this critical endeavor (Pirke Avot, 2:16).
We learn from Jewish wisdom that when tackling obstacles and seeking to repair the world, we must start with Torah wisdom (Pirke Avot, 3:17), prayer (Genesis 32), and action (Exodus 14).
A 3 Step Jewish Approach to Ensuring Gender Equity
Step 1: Torah Wisdom
Without Torah wisdom, there will be no results (Avot, 3:17). For learning and inspiration, I embarked on a textual journey of strong Jewish women. Here’s the virtues that resonated with me.
Neemanoot (Y’sodei HaTorah 1:1): Women remained loyal to G-d in the face of the Golden Calf (Rashi on Numbers, 14:33).
Simcha (Avot: 6:6): Miriam and the women joyfully danced with their timbrels (Exodus 15:20).
Ohev et ha Briyoot (et al, 6:6): Rebeccah personified loving all creatures when preparing water for Eliezer and the camels (Genesis 24:12).
Zreezoot (Pesachim, 4a): Yael alacritously drove a stake through Sisera (Judges, 5:25-27).
Omar Davar B’Shemo Omro (Avot 6:6): Prophet Devorah Eshet Lapidot, the “fiery woman,” whose word was her weapon and served as a mouthpiece for G-d, credited G-d for all of Israel’s victories.
Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur: (Avot 2:4): Golda Meir enabled American Jews to see Israel’s challenges and successes as its own, as part of one community.
Histadel (Avot, 2:5): Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg often bravely stands and dissents in the face of opposition.
Step 2: Spiritual Component: Yehi Ratzon
Just as Jacob prayed prior to approaching the challenge of Esau, so to did I establish a guiding Yehi Ratzon (May it be Your will) to accomplish our goal.
Yehi Ratzon: May it be your will that Career Up Now has success in achieving gender balance and equity, as the women of Israel are powerful, and are the key to future generations. Thus, help me start with women.
Step 3: ACTION!
The Paradigm: #StartWithWomen
Our action steps began with a gender barrier-to-entry-analysis. We discovered that we had one woman contact for every 20 men (In the STEM and other male dominated fields). Thus, we concluded that if we wanted gender balance, we would need to focus on the population that was proving the most difficult to recruit: women. We made a commitment to #StartWithWomen. This meant that our design strategy would be women-centric. Whenever looking at a new city, or launching cohorts, our new approach was to start with women.
Atlanta Career Up Now
For the Atlanta Career Up Now pilot, I expressed my desire to have gender balance within the cohort during our strategic design conversations with partner organizations. When partnering with Emory University’s Hillel for this program, the two leaders of the Jewish Business Association on campus were dynamic young women who perfectly fit the criteria. The director reached out to them and they indicated that they would be willing to take on this project.
As a result, our Atlanta Career Up Now cohort yielded both gender balance and equity amongst the emerging professionals and industry leaders.
STEM: Environment & Sustainability Cohort
In November 2017, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, UCLA Hillel, and with support from Sonia & James Cummings, we piloted an Environment and Sustainability cohort. We understood that women are underrepresented in this field and thus, we knew that the emerging professional leadership should be balanced between men and women. We yielded a gender balanced cohort by having two women (one of whom, Dana Creager, has since graduated and is now a Food Justice Fellow for Repair the World), and two men leading the design and recruitment process.
Growth Hacking for Gender Balance
With an increase of women cohort members, we needed to rapidly grow the number of women industry leaders in our network. To do this, we leveraged growth hacking for engagement which is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing funnels to identify the most efficient ways to grow engagement. Leveraging growth hacking strategies we recruited 200 women industry leaders into our network in a three-month span.
How We Grew: Our primary recruitment funnel was LinkedIn. Through advanced searches we identified and recruited 150 Jewish women industry leaders by directly contacting over 2,000 women industry leaders in four cities. This yielded approximately 200 industry leaders who joined Career Up Now as advisors and expanded our contact list to over 400 women professionals.
Task Forces: I learned from Toby Rubin, the founder of Upstart, that more effective than committees are task forces. A Task Force is a select group of individuals charged with accomplishing a specific short-term goal.
With a team of newly recruited women industry leaders passionate about our work I launched our Women of Wisdom task forces in two of our cities. Now, these Women of Wisdom are helping expand the network and Career Up Now community by engaging their colleagues and friends with our programming, designing and hosting gatherings, and serving as mentors for our cohorts.
Women of Wisdom Series: Made possible by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation Grassroots Events Grants program we prototyped our first Women of Wisdom which brought together women industry leaders and emerging professionals. Following the successful launch, we continued to scale these gatherings which served the dual purpose of recruiting new women into our Career Up Now community, and also building local micro-communities of women connecting intergenerationally–professionally, personally, and soulfully.
Scaling Women of Wisdom
Our first four Women of Wisdom programs in Los Angeles and San Francisco yielded over 100 new women professionals in our Career Up Now community and engaged approximately 300 women at various touch points. With support from the Etrog #1 Suzanne and Elliott Felson and Keren Keshet, we will continue to expand in San Francisco. And on April 8th, 2019, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s 2018 Innovation Grant we will launch Women of Wisdom in Atlanta.
A Gender Balanced Founding Board
After almost three years of being incubated by UF Hillel as a national program, Career Up Now is the final stages of becoming an independent 501c3. We know a critical component is having a strong founding board. Because of our #StartWithWomen paradigm, we now have a dynamic multi-generational, gender-balanced core group of industry and community leaders who have agreed to join our founding board.
Online Learning Series
Due to our rapid engagement growth and a commitment to #StartWithWomen we have now launched an online learning series called Wisdom Wednesdays which are lead primarily by women, and open to all members of our Career Up Now community.
Using hype methodology within our Women of Wisdom network and automation, within 24 hours of calling for RFPs we were able to book our weekly workshops out for the next 3 months.
Believing and Achieving
Even through achieving gender balance and equity is a challenge. It is worth it. And reflecting on the wise Rabbi Tarfon, we do not need to complete the work, we just have to start it. So, let’s #StartWithWomen.
If you are interested in joining us on this journey, bringing Career Up Now’s Women of Wisdom to your community, or exploring how you can implement this paradigm, please email me at [email protected]
Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D., believes Jewish women hold the key to our collective future. Everyday he seeks to advance this important narrative and dialogue. He is the co-founder of Career Up Now, A Nahum Goldmann Fellow, Birthright Israel Fellow, UpStart alumnus, Eli Talks Fellow, a member of the Schusterman ROI Community, a member of the Hazon Intentional Community Incubator and Glean’s Spiritual Entrepreneurship Incubator. He is pioneering, and speaks nationally on Growth Hacking for Jewish Engagement and other novel ideas. Bradley can be reached via email: [email protected]