Is There a Gender Gap in Israel’s Nonprofit World?

by Sharon Udasin

Different from so many other professional sectors that are still lagging behind in terms of gender equality, in Israel’s nonprofit world, women across the board say they enjoy tremendous opportunities in workplace – in part, they believe, because the specific work they are doing caters to an inherently feminine skill set.

“Since I started in the field I’ve only been able to move upwards forwards. I’ve never had a door closed to me because I was the woman,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, 35, founder of REACH3K, which works with nonprofits to create individualized, strategic fundraising plans. “The only time I’ve ever heard of a woman not being offered a position is when it conflicts with the nature of the constituency – like if it’s haredi.

“I’ve met amazing women in this field – there are people who are not only running organizations but also who are the faces of organizations.”

This sentiment is quite a far cry from the feelings in so many other sectors and fields, where women still remain stuck, to some extent, behind a glass ceiling. For example, as the Forward reported last week, the prior week’s financial supplement of Yediot Aharonot featured the faces of 14 people who make top salaries as managers in the Israeli business sector – yet all 14 of these faces were male. But in the nonprofit sector – while salaries as a whole may be abysmal – women say they are facing no such struggle when it comes to climbing to the top.

“Leadership of women in the nonprofit world in Israel is very developed,” said Judith Recanati, 60, founder of Natal: Israel trauma center for victims of terror and war. “Many of the organizations are led by a woman – somebody who is giving not only the money but also time and professional expertise, and this is a very highly developing field in Israel. It is becoming very professional developed and focused.”

“I’ve never experienced any challenges to succeeding in the third sector as a woman,” agreed Julie Weisman, 26, director of public relations at Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, who earned a master’s in Community Leadership and Philanthropy Studies at the Hebrew University, where she says 11 out of the 13 graduates in her class were female.

In certain ways, women may even have a leg up over men in this sector, many of Israel’s female nonprofit leaders agree – some citing more “old fashioned” reasons while others pointing to traits that women are often born with.

“Usually men are involved in business and full-time jobs that won’t allow them to give enough time for the nonprofits, but women, [especially those who have already] had a career and decide to do this, they can give more – this is the reality,” Recanati said.

“More women are free to give their time to an NGO. I think that there are also men doing it, but not as much on a daily basis.”

Particular skill sets that are more common among women than men can also make nonprofit leadership roles attractive to women, emphasized Nirit Roessler, 50, director of resource development services at Kimron, a new initiative of Yad Hanadiv, Kahanoff and Pratt foundations, where she consults, mentors and over the years trained hundreds of social change organizations in their struggle for financial stability and sustainability.

“I believe the nonprofit sector in Israel is highly feminized: services such as education, health, social work and welfare are considered classic arenas for women and so a natural ground for women within the third sector,” said Roessler, who has years of nonprofit experience working at Shatil – Leading Social Change and then at the Pratt Foundation’s Pradler NGO Empowerment Program. “The complicated and intricate qualities needed to juggle social management are often deemed suitable for feminine management styles and the pay is accordingly low.”

Jaskoll agreed: “A woman is very good at doing many different things. In a nonprofit by nature you have more than one hat. In a business, the CEO probably can just be a CEO. In a nonprofit, [he or she is] always looking for money – it’s always tough, everyone is always filling in everyone else’s shoes. I think women are really good at multitasking.

She added, however, that she “can’t say that women are more qualified or better at running nonprofits than men,” only “that women are more likely to take a lower paying job as maybe the second breadwinner.”

Other leaders felt that women’s continued struggle as an underdog allows them to empathize more effectively with the various “underdogs” that are the focus of many nonprofit organization.

“What nonprofits do is to help sectors that are weaker – and women in a way are one of these sectors,” said Merav Resistal, product manager of HakolBo, a program that gets hardware and software vendors to donate and give substantial discounts to Israeli nonprofits. “Usually women are the ones who have this compassion for the weak in general. There’s a lot of men, don’t get me wrong. But I never met a handicapped person or someone blind working in business, but now working in the nonprofit world I have a few clients that can be any one of the above.”

Before entering the nonprofit world, Resistal, 36, was initially an industrial engineer and worked in hi-tech as a team leader and then established a start-up that recycles second-hard hardware. HakolBo runs under the umbrella of NPTech, a nonprofit that helps other social organizations to maximize their use of technology, in conjunction with Microsoft and Techsoup Global.

While Resistal believes the opportunity to rise in terms of position and responsibilities are equal across gender lines, the salary situation is not quite as equal in her opinion. “In the nonprofit I think it’s equal – not the salary, but this is not just the nonprofit salary,” she said. “It’s well known that in the same position that women will have 20-30% percent less in the same position.”

In the end, however, the money is hardly her primary concern.

“It’s not about the money,” Resistal said. “We built NPTech from scratch. I think only geeks like us could do it. For me to use my experience in making such a big difference – we help 30,000 nonprofits that help the whole population in Israel, for me it was worth everything.”

Of course, this ability to help an enormous population is not without sacrifice – but a sacrifice that is worthwhile to many, like Recanati, who works on a purely volunteer basis after years of practicing private psychotherapy and art therapy.

“I think that I have the privilege of doing such important volunteer work and that there is no other way I could do something so important, interesting and meaningful for so many thousands of people in Israel, so I’m very lucky that I had the opportunity to do it,” Recanati said. “It is many times very hard because it takes me away from my family, my children, my grandchildren. I’m very much devoted to what I am doing and I spend a lot of energies that sometimes I don’t have, but I have no choice – I have to fight and continue.”