Mind the Gap: Breaking the Nonprofit Glass Ceiling

by Laura Berger

pt9_womenYou make less money, but you are doing “good” work, so it’s worth it. You trade less money for a more flexible schedule, so you can take care of your family. You work for an organization that is struggling for money, so it doesn’t bother you that your boss failed to find funding to get you a long-deserved raise. These are only a handful of the excuses that lead people in general, but particularly women, to accept lower salaries in socially-conscious professions.

Feminist issues, such as salary gaps between men and women and the glass ceiling, have not received much national attention since the 1980s. In the world of Jewish philanthropy, where socially conscious people devote their time and energy to a wide range of important social and economic issues, one might assume that internal issues inside organizations, such as women’s rights, are being met. However, these philanthropic institutions not only fail to keep up with other businesses and organizations, but lag behind.

“About 80 percent of professionals in the field [of Jewish philanthropy] are women, and most of the leadership is men,” says Shifra Bronznick, who works for Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, or AWP. “It’s been odd for me to hear from many people that the women’s agenda is a small issue, but the Jewish agenda is a big agenda, while women are 51 percent of society, but Jews are such a small percentage. It seems quite out of sync for me.” According to AWP publications, in non-Jewish philanthropic organizations, the gap is much smaller between men and women. Why is it that Jewish organizations are more prone to gender discrimination?

Advancing Women Professionals and several other small organizations are trying to bring attention to this stark divide between the demographics of society and the actual numbers of Jewish women in leadership positions. According to various studies that AWP cites on its website, the problem has multiple sources. Not only is there a remnant of gender discrimination in Jewish philanthropies, but women are also less likely to bargain for and demand rightfully earned raises and benefits. According to studies cited in “Leveling the Playing Field,” a 2008 publication by AWP, “women ask for less, negotiate less frequently, and accept less.” This is partly because women tend to negotiate differently than men, but also because of preexisting institutional resistance to women negotiating for promotions. This is the case in many career paths, but particularly for Jewish women working in philanthropy.

Gali Cooks is one woman who seems to have surpassed the challenges many women face in the Jewish philanthropic world. Less than ten years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, she is already the executive director of the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation. But although she has reached the higher echelons of Jewish leadership, she still recognizes the lagging prejudices. “In our generation, guys don’t seem to have a sense of a glass ceiling for women, but older men have been steeped in a different culture,” says Cooks. “The ‘Old Boys’ still think that women can’t close deals, that it’s hormones or ovaries talking.”

One woman, who did not wish to be identified and is currently searching for a job in philanthropy, said, “There are a lot of talented women in the field, but as soon as a talented man comes through the door, people are jumping for them.”

Jewish women beginning careers at nonprofits and philanthropies should be prepared for these challenges and receive training in negotiation techniques to ensure that they will have the chance to become well-rounded in a wide variety of skills. Another way to improve gender disparity is for both men and women in the field to simply be aware of it. One way that companies in the past have succeeded in treating women differently is by encouraging an atmosphere in which no one discusses individual salaries or benefits. When women research figures such as the median salary for their position, they have a sturdier foundation to rely on in negotiations.

“Over the next two years, 40 percent of top executives – in both Jewish and secular nonprofits – are planning to retire,” says the AWP website. In this climate, people entering nonprofits have more power than ever to make changes and set higher standards for their organizations. Both men and women need to examine institutional biases and create a workplace where everyone has access to the same opportunities.

Laura Berger is a law student at Fordham University. She attended the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem and was a fellow for Uri L’Tzedek in New York City.

image: Torch-bearing female, symbolizing the awakening of the nation’s women to the desire for suffrage. Provided by the Library of Congress.

This post is from the just-released PresenTense Philanthropy issue; you can also subscribe to PresenTense Magazine and receive this, and future issues, delivered directly to you.