Mentoring for Equity: Uplifting Jewish Professional Women

By Rachel Eisen and Sara Miller-Paul

What inspires you to action? When Rachel Gildiner wrote just over 6 months ago about the work still needed to achieve gender equity in the Jewish nonprofit sector, and called for amplifying such conversations, we found that her message resonated and reflected so much of what we’ve seen in the field. We eagerly jumped in and joined the Facebook group she created for women in the field to connect with one another.

In one of the subsequent group conversations, we began discussing the prevalent desire for mentoring opportunities with other women in the field. Whether we benefited from mentoring or coaching experiences in the workplace or sought a mentor on our own, the consensus was clear: Jewish professional women are looking for mentors.

These women seek mentors for various reasons, not the least of which is their professional growth in the workplace where women can face gender-related challenges. Our workplaces need systemic change to address inequity – and we also need to bolster the careers of current and emerging women leaders. Access to mentoring opportunities is one of the most effective ways to do that.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review reported on research that suggests women especially benefit from mentoring relationships:

Because women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”

In other words, access to mentorship networks are not just a nice “extra,” but rather, a necessity for women to advance in their fields.

Research also shows that mentoring networks are important for helping women thrive in their careers specifically in the Jewish community. Leading Edge’s initial 2014 report showed Jewish women professionals “felt the ‘old boy’s network’ still gives preferential treatment to emerging male leaders over their female counterparts, particularly in organizations with predominantly male senior teams.”

Five years later, it still rings true. While several great organizations over the years have been devoted to changing the landscape for women in our field, we are hard-pressed to find relationship-building opportunities for women working in the Jewish community. Though opportunities exist to plug into existing networks, they are either membership- or cohort-based, or are not as focused on the long-term relationship between mentor and mentee. The need for an ongoing women’s mentoring network is readily apparent.

That’s why we’re launching Mentoring for Equity. Our purpose is simple: a world in which gender equity is the norm requires the nurturing of women’s leadership. Mentoring for Equity is for all who identify as women in the Jewish communal sector, and will build up Jewish women professionals by providing a broad, open opportunity. By fostering mentoring relationships between Jewish women colleagues across career timelines and fields, participants will fight misperceptions of competition, give back to our sector, and learn from and support one another, while working toward a vision of a fully equitable field.

We agree with Leading Edge’s assessment that an “Investment in Talent” is needed in our field. There should be opportunities specifically to uplift women and LGBTQ professionals, professionals of color and of Sephardi and Mizrahi backgrounds. Ultimately, our employers, and the communal infrastructures with whom we work should be the ones developing and supporting mentoring programs like this.

We can’t wait for that to happen. But in the meantime, we literally cannot wait for that to happen! So we’re launching Mentoring for Equity now, and we hope you’ll join us, either literally (if you’re a woman-identified Jewish professional) or by supporting our efforts publicly and sharing this initiative with your colleagues who identify as women.

If you’re a woman-identified professional at a Jewish nonprofit, foundation, or other community organization, apply today to be a mentor, a mentee, or both at https://mentoringforequity.wordpress.com.

Rachel Eisen is the Director of Development at Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center in Newton, MA. She serves on several young adult committees in the greater Boston area.

Sara Miller-Paul is a facilitator, coach, and consultant at CFAR, and is affiliated with Richard Levin & Associates. In addition to her professional work in the Jewish community, she is a board member of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.