By Seth Cohen
What is the biggest challenge facing the global Jewish community? It’s a complicated question, and probably an impossible one to answer. But I have a simple and totally obvious answer, and I wish more people shared it:
In the Jewish communal world (and the professional world more broadly), not enough men work for women.
Of course this isn’t a realization I came to exclusively based on my experience. My opinion has been further informed by recent writings from women I deeply respect, and I want to give them credit for these insights. So rather than me restating data about the current state of women leadership in the Jewish community, I recommend reading this article by Gali Cooks, CEO of Leading Edge, on understanding gender inequities in the workforce; this essay by Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, Sara Shapiro-Plevan and Allison Fine from the Gender Equity in Hiring Project on the case for promoting women in the workplace; and this article by Liran Avisar Ben-Horin, the CEO of Masa Israel, for another perspective on the systemic challenges of helping women see themselves as leaders in the Jewish community. There are plenty more worth reading in eJewishPhilanthropy and beyond.
Yet just as much as the data, my perspective has been deeply shaped by seven years of working for a woman philanthropist and with numerous exceptional female colleagues in Atlanta, Washington and Israel who taught me leadership skills that I am confident I would not have gained working exclusively with men. I learned the importance of emotional intelligence, of compassionate leadership and of patient second chances. I was inspired to see opportunities and learn of challenges through different lenses, in part based on gendered perspectives different from my own, but also based on different life experiences that I can’t have (such as being a working mother).
My experience is not unique – study after study (and anecdote after anecdote) shows that female leaders are more collaborative, more empowering, more emotionally intelligent and more resilient than their male colleagues. Women also have stronger capabilities to create and foster more inclusive and diverse work environments. Based on empirical evidence alone, the case in favor of men prioritizing working for women leaders is obvious – why wouldn’t you want to work for a leader who not only inspires you, but who teaches you important skills you might not otherwise gain by working for men?
Which brings me back to one of my key realizations of my professional journey in the Jewish communal world: every man should prioritize working for women (at least once) in his career.
This assertion has an obvious equitable benefit: more men working for women would mean more C-suite and senior executive roles for women. Organizations would benefit, with more men learning from women, and fundamental workplace environments would be transformed. Different kinds of collaboration and conflict-resolution styles would take root. As a result of men learning some of the additional core strengths that women leaders foster – collaboration, inclusivity and empathy – these more effectively trained men would, in turn (ideally), seek out other women leaders as supervisors and mentors. The result would be a virtuous cycle of empowerment and a realization of the vision of workplace equity already being advanced by the powerful work of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition.
Although my own personal workplace experience has privileged me an obviously optimistic mindset about the cultural shift of men working for women, I am also not blind to gross-generalization. There are plenty of men and women who, regardless of their gender, just aren’t great leaders or managers. With this in mind, I am not suggesting men blindly seek out just any female leader. Rather, men should more clearly open their eyes to the importance of prioritizing the opportunity to work for female leaders who can teach and inspire them in ways similar to what I experienced in my Jewish professional career.
Jewish history is filled with strong female leaders who helped shape our past, and the challenging present and optimistic future of our community needs female leaders as well. But rather than just depending on women, it’s time for men to do something they have done far too little of in the past, and the timing couldn’t be more urgent. It’s time for men to seek out opportunities to follow female leadership.
So, to my male friends and colleagues – if you are worried about the challenges facing the Jewish community, go work for women leaders as if our future depends on it.
Because it does.
Seth Cohen is the founder of Applied Optimism, a consulting and experience design lab that helps organizations and communities design optimistic solutions to complex organizational, communal and individual challenges. Seth can be reached at [email protected] and at www.appliedoptimism.com