Building a Shelter of Wisdom

How Were Training Generation Z to Close the Workplace Gender Gap
By Dana Levinson Steiner

For the last several years, the Forward has conducted its annual Salary Survey, a comprehensive analysis of the salary ranges of the top executives of the United States’ most significant Jewish communal organizations. Year after year, the survey reads like the film Groundhog Day. As the proverbial alarm clock rings, signaling our yearly entree into this abyss, a seemingly endless cache of articles, blogs, and shock-and-awe social media posts are written to decry the massive gender gap in senior leadership. How is it possible, they seethe, that only 11 women are at the helm of North America’s major Jewish communal organizations? How can we, as a field that deeply and wholly believes in professionalizing our Jewish values, allow for the nearly 59% disparity in female executive salary versus that of their male counterparts? And so the story goes, and another year fades into six more weeks of gender-inequitable winter.

In this year’s salary survey series, Linda Maizels addressed this paucity of executive female leadership in Jewish communal organizations, suggesting that while Jewish fraternities such as AEPI may create a direct pipeline to Jewish communal leadership, Maizels asks, “do similar channels and opportunities exist to promote young Jewish women? And if not, how can they be created?”

At the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, we say Groundhog Day is over for gender inequality in Jewish communal life. In the summer of 2017, we launched “Chutzpanit: From Campus to the C-Suite,” a preparatory and mentorship program for female undergraduates that seeks to provide increased pathways to professional opportunities, female role modeling and mentorship, and opportunities for leadership development in a female oriented space. Most critically, Chutzpanit serves as an instructive intervention for Generation Z women who have identified that they feel unprepared to recognize and confront gender bias or discrimination in internships, interviews, and in lay leadership. As Jewish educators that spend countless hours devoted to the emotional, spiritual, social, and identity development of emerging adults, we have found that Chutzpanit addresses a presently unmet need in the field of Jewish communal life through increased access to, and support of, emerging Jewish female professionals in positions of leadership.

Chutzpanit practices a two-pronged approach to provide tangible and instructive interventions through a gender and Jewish lens:

  • We train, coach, and support emerging female professionals through weekly seminars that promote accessibility to leadership positions, helping participants recognize, diagnose, and confront gender bias and discrimination in professional and leadership settings. Our participants are introduced to topics that prepare them for the realities of the workforce including gender bias, unequal pay, and inflexible work hours, in addition to providing instruction in salary negotiation, elevating supportive female relationships, and facilitating “men as allies” groups.
  • We enrich our participants through one-on-one female mentorship. While the weekly seminar develops a cadre of supportive rising female professionals, participants are also matched with female executives who mentor them, using their own experiences navigating these issues.

Our pilot’s success indicates that Chutzpanit is at the forefront of engaging with Generation Z women entering the workforce, a demographic in which Jewish communal and secular professionals are just beginning to invest. We are not afraid to confront the realities of our field, as we name and acknowledge the gaps in Jewish leadership development and provide a proactive approach that seeks to equip our participants with the capability to confidently navigate and advocate for themselves and their colleagues.

Chutzpanit is merely the beginning of a journey in which participants, and ultimately the Jewish community at large, ensure that leadership roles and professional mobility are equally accessible regardless of gender. By providing a critical intervention to this generation of talented and motivated Jewish women, we are elevating, inspiring, and encouraging them to enter the workforce as confident women, advocates of gender equity and accessibility, and supportive thought leaders to female colleagues and peers. We are very much in a collective “moment” – an opportunity to confront and acknowledge the public discourse around abuses of power, gender inequity, and agency – and we believe that it is our responsibility to transform the ways in which Jewish young women – and men, for that matter – participate in this narrative of collective action. As participants begin to recognize and name aspects of gender inequity in their day-to-day lives, and in turn, apply the strategies learned to confront and address it, they will dramatically change the conversation about gender equity in both secular and Jewish spaces.

Since June 2017, we have worked with 30 emerging Jewish female professionals and 30 talented Jewish female mentors. Most recently, one of our alumnae came into my office, cheeks flushed with excitement, sharing that she successfully negotiated a raise at her spring internship. As we performed a victory dance in the hall, she shared that while it may have been her newly learned negotiation skills that clinched her raise, it was a Jewish text we had discussed in that same seminar that drove her confidence. In the back of her mind, she heard the words of Ecclesiastes: as in the shelter of wisdom, in the shelter of money; and the benefit of knowing wisdom is that it brings life to its owner. Envisioning herself in her shelter of wisdom, she had the confidence to make one small step towards gender equity in her workplace.

There is not, despite what our statistics indicate, a lack of competent, talented women who are ready to lead our community into the next phase of Jewish communal leadership. Chutzpanit offers the mantra that women and men in power move communities forward by elevating and enhancing the status of women and girls, and the Bronfman Center is proud to change the ways that emerging Jewish female professionals are prepared to enter the workforce.

Dana Levinson Steiner is the Senior Associate of Leadership & Strategic Partnerships at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU and the founder of Chutzpanit: From Campus to the C-Suite.