On Equal Pay Day: Building a Community on a Foundation of Justice

By Stephanie Blumenkranz, Rabbi Marla J. Feldman and Rabbi Mary Zamore

The Talmud teaches, “When a person robs his fellow even the value of a perutah [penny], it is as though he had taken his life away from him.” (Bava Kama 119a) While the ancient rabbis were not concerned with a gendered-based pay gap, they did understand that fair pay is the basis of human dignity in the employer-employee relationship.

Inspired by Jewish ethics and a commitment to justice, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) and Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), with the support of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, are launching a new initiative to address the gender wage gap that exists in the American Jewish community, and, in particular, within Reform Movement institutions in North America.

On this Equal Pay Day, there is much to be done to bring justice to working women, including those who are employed within the Jewish community. Today’s date symbolizes the extra time when women’s earnings, on average, finally catch up to what a man earned for the same job by the end of last year. It is time to correct this inequity within our community.

On average, women working full time in the United States are typically paid just 80 percent of what men are paid. The gap has narrowed since 1960, when the pay gap was 60.7 percent, but the rate of change is not happening fast enough. According to the Association for University Women, if we continue at the current rate, we will not obtain equal pay until 2059.

In recent years, numerous studies have shown that pay equity is an issue in the Jewish community. There have been quite a few compensation studies conducted in the Jewish community, which include but are not limited to: the Central Conference of American Rabbis study of compensation of Reform rabbis by gender (2012); NYU alumni conducted a Jewish communal professional compensation survey (2012); Advancing Women Professionals and The Jewish Community looked at gender equity in the Federation System (2006); the Rabbinical Assembly, funded by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, surveyed the salaries of Conservative rabbis (2004), and the Forward has lifted up this issue in its salary survey of the top professionals at the largest Jewish communal organizations in North America. These studies have shown the extent to which the pay gap exists in our community, which is largely similar to the National pay gap.

The new Reform Movement pay equity initiative was kicked off by a day of education and sharing, during which leaders from all of the major Reform Movement affiliates reported on results of internal salary surveys and their interventions to narrow the gender pay gap. Discovering areas of mutual concern, the participants committed to design, implement, and evaluate effective interventions. In follow-up from this gathering, affiliates have deepened their commitment to addressing this disparity, including the Conference of American Cantors, which issued a resolution supporting equal pay for equal work.

In the coming months, comprehensive tools and strategies to eliminate the wage gap will be developed and integrated into every stage of employment, engaging both employers and employees. Leading experts and trainers will be brought in to conduct interventions and work with all stakeholders – including congregation boards, clergy, and professionals of all levels.

For example, to address inequities that result from the hiring process, women professionals may be trained with gender specific negotiation skills, while at the same time training will be provided for those responsible for hiring to recognize their own biases. Reform congregations and institutions will receive tools to help them implement specific interventions, including educating professional and lay leaders about the wage gap, use of salary data to avoid under-paying women, and using implicit bias inventories before meeting candidates or negotiating contracts.

Over the next two years, participating Reform institutions will convene periodically to evaluate the impact of the implemented strategies. The efficacy of these interventions will be assessed to determine if they were successful in addressing wage discrepancies based on gender. If successful, thousands of women serving the Jewish community will have increased economic well-being, and a replicable model will be created that can be utilized by other organizations and religious streams. Working together, we can create a more equitable community that truly lives its values of fairness and justice for all.

Stephanie Blumenkranz is the Assistant Director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY). JWFNY utilizes innovative social change grantmaking, advocacy and education campaigns to advance the status and wellbeing of women and girls in the United States, Israel and around the world. Founded in 1995, JWFNY has awarded over $4.5 million to 185 projects. For more information, visit www.jwfny.org.

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is the Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America. WRJ represents tens of thousands of women in hundreds of women’s groups, strengthening the voice of women worldwide and empowering them to create caring communities, nurture congregations, cultivate personal and spiritual growth, and advocate for and promote progressive Jewish values.

Rabbi Mary Zamore is the Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN). WRN is a constituent group of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Created in 1975, WRN continues to provide community, support and advocacy for the over 700 women in the Reform rabbinate who serve congregations and institutions throughout the world.