Gender Equity in Hiring: It is Time

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By Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu and Allison Fine

The vast majority of employees in Jewish communal organizations are women, yet nearly all of the top positions continue to be filled by men. Each year the Forward publishes a salary survey listing the names and salaries of those at the helm of these Jewish communal organizations. Just like every year previously, in 2017 a woman’s name doesn’t appear until number 29 on the list. And out of the top 56, only 8 are women.

This needs to change.

We have created an open letter which lays out our initial suggestions for creating gender equity in hiring in our organizations, synagogues or schools.

We suggest the following commitments:

  • Women and men must be equally represented on hiring committees
  • One-third of candidates for any position should be women
  • Hiring committees must assign a member of the committee to serve as a gender bias monitor

We expect that our suggestions raise questions and invite dialogue.

First, what is a gender bias monitor? This individual is a member of your existing team or staff who is trained to listen for potential gender bias in oral and written language, shares research, helps to design and facilitate conversations and processes around interviewing and overall hiring processes, and who evaluates bias in the workplace and how it is shaping the search for the best candidate. These monitors may also train other members of their team to equip them with the basic skills to carry this work forward.

What comes next? Over the coming months, we will be working on two parallel efforts. One will be a design process to shape the training of gender bias monitors and understand what this must look like to execute properly in order to leverage the greatest change in hiring across our professional community. The second effort will be a series of conversations to work openly with any allies and partners who want to move this work forward. Please join us if you want to be involved, give suggestions and share in the work.

You can join us in any number of ways. First, we invite you to sign on to this commitment and share this with your staff and boards. Next, we invite you to share your ideas for increasing gender equality on this open Google doc. We will then schedule conversations to continue to listen and share and learn together. We want this to be an open, transparent, and inclusive process, and invite your voices to join with ours as we weave a network of support for this change.

We don’t have all the answers to this difficult problem. But working together, we can and will ask the right questions, and move together toward solutions. Great power will come from creating a network of sustained change rather than working in isolation. This network includes organizations and leaders in the Jewish community already hard at work on gender equality in the workplace, and it includes those of you who are eager partners, too.

Hiring is a key lever for right-sizing gender equality in our community. It is the place where we can have the greatest and most sustained impact to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to ascend the organizational ladder.

It’s time to align our hiring practices with our Jewish values, to fulfill our commitment to our communities that we value the contributions that women make at all levels of organizations. Again, we invite you to share this work. Process these procedures with your organizations and boards. and incorporate these big ideas into your hiring practices immediately. Together, we can change our workplace and communal culture and make a difference.

Allison Fine is among the nation’s pre-eminent thinkers and strategists on networked leadership and online activism. She is the author of Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World, the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age and co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit.

Selected as one of the “Most Inspirational Rabbis in America” by the Forward, Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu sits at the leading edge of American Jewish life. She is currently the Director of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, a pluralist network of rabbis dedicated to serving the needs of all people through creative use of Jewish wisdom. She tweets at @rabbirebecca and @rwbclal.

Sara Shapiro-Plevan is the founder of Rimonim Consulting and a doctoral candidate in the Davidson School at JTS. Her practice focuses around supporting the emergence of high quality collaborative, networked relationships in Jewish settings, working in spaces that range from deeply personal and individual to embracing wide-ranging communal and organizational change.