By Rabbi Jeremy Winaker
I identify as male and as a feminist. Believing in the work of building gender equity, I recently participated in Cohort 5 of the Gender Equity in Hiring Project. I was struck by how much learning must be embraced to make progress, even for those who are trying. By really listening to others, I could feel progress towards gender equity in the Jewish community happening. The relationships between the women and men in the cohort embodied these valuable lessons. Inspired by my participation in the program, I decided to connect with male allies from previous cohorts so that we might use our collective voice to bring others into this sacred and timely work.
We are men who have participated in the Gender Equity in Hiring Project cohorts and are dedicated to becoming better allies and advocates for women. We know just how hard it can be to create change and to mitigate bias in our hiring processes and our workplaces. We stand with women fighting for this change because we recognize that relationships give us the strength to make change possible.
Our first step was to understand the power of implicit bias. Bias is that split-second part of how we live where we are inclined to match our interests, affirm our convictions, or expand our horizons. Implicit bias reveals itself in areas we are trying to change, like gender inequity; leads to counter-productive action by allies; and can even be held by those it harms.
Using the Implicit Association Test (IAT), located at implicit.harvard.edu, we discovered the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and deep-rooted nature of our own biases. Within our cohorts, the personal stories we shared demonstrated that our professional teams can be much stronger when we align our institutional vision and values (based on Jewish wisdom) to include equitably the insights and capacities of different types of men and women. Good alignment and good teams mean better performance across the board. As Jewish institutions, we aim to walk the talk. Equity makes good business sense and good moral sense, but it remains elusive because our biases and assumptions may impede our actions, even unconsciously. Our institutions have many workplace issues to examine and align with our values; gender equity is just one.
Gender equity, even just in hiring, seems harder than it is because we are human, and implicit bias isn’t just one thing. It turns out that there are so many kinds of bias that all act as defense mechanisms keeping us from making change; yourbias.is lists 24! The “bystander effect” (my assumption that someone else is or will do what needs to be done), the “just-world hypothesis” (my preference for justice biases me toward thinking the world already is just), and “the curse of knowledge” (my thinking that because I understand something, it is obvious to all) are examples of biases that likely contributed to us not calling more loudly for change. We learned to be attentive to these biases so that we could be better allies, listening more, and join forces to effect change!
We can mitigate the subtle and abrasive ways our system empowers bias, especially in hiring, by implementing strategies like those developed by women like Iris Bohnet in her book What Works: Gender Equality by Design. For example, we can test the language of job descriptions for gendered words, use checklists to treat candidates equitably, list salary ranges, and reduce opportunities in which bias might play a role. We have learned that behavioral design offers simple and consistent bias mitigation. By talking about these issues more, and making these issues visible to our colleagues and communities as advocates, we will work collaboratively to achieve gender equity in the Jewish community.
Calling more loudly for change is but one potential approach. Taking regular, thoughtful opportunities to listen, pay attention, reflect what is being said empathetically and respectfully, and to become allies who respect our female colleagues’ truths as their own without judgment or reactivity will thoughtfully elevate our collective efforts throughout the Jewish community.
In our cohorts, we discussed ideas about power. Some participants reflected that power can be hierarchical, authoritarian, and be misused or abused. Other participants viewed power through a lens of opportunity and access. The conversation was much wider, though, including ideas of power as part of nature, as based on good character, and as responsibility. Why? Because we had devoted time to forming relationships and listening to one another intently, each voice was valued, and each person could share their perspective openly. Sharing equally with one another allowed us to witness an example of thoughtful interaction and collaborative, trusting relationships, that might be possible in our organizations and congregations. Listening is worth the effort, and now we are asking you to join in this sacred task.
To learn more about the Gender Equity in Hiring Project’s upcoming October cohort, please click here.
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, Cohort 1
Rabbi Aaron Gaber, Cohort 1
Ross Berkowitz, Cohort 2
Bradley Cook, Cohort 2
Dale Glasser, Cohort 3
Rabbi Paul Jacobson, Cohort 3
Max Klaben, Cohort 3