The Reform Pay Equity Initiative: Copy Us, Please

By Rabbi Mary L. Zamore

On this Equal Pay Day it is important to note that the gender-based pay gap is a #metoo issue, meaning the societal norms which deny women physical and psychological safety also lead to women being underpaid. The wage gap is the financial dimension of gender harassment. And, unfortunately, no community is immune from misogyny or pay inequity. Not even the Reform Movement with its foundational principles of gender equality and social justice. While our Movement has vocally advocated for equality in the national workplace for decades upon decades, we have not turned that critical eye on ourselves. Now, finally, a Movement-wide partnership to address the wage gap directly is making important progress, while creating a model and resources for all.

In its third year, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (The beginning of RPEI’s work is documented here.) continues its comprehensive approach to the wage gap within the Reform Movement, striving to influence the employment practices of 900+ congregations and over 1.8 million Reform Jews. This partnership of the seventeen organizations under the Reform Movement umbrella supports the female Jewish professionals of the Movement, while at the same time it provides resources and trainings for our institutions and congregations to ensure unbiased hiring and contract negotiations. In addition, the resources and learning shared by this Initiative are open to everyone, not only one type of Jewish professional and not exclusively the members of the Reform Movement. RPEI is fueled by generous funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and women’s rights activist Audrey Cappell.

Foremost, RPEI has educated the leaders of our organizations concerning the complexities of the pay gap and how it manifests itself in our Movement. In turn, each has openly shared the work of the separate entities, creating synergy in our efforts to narrow the wage gap. We have learned how to better collect and analyze the compensation data of our Jewish professionals; we have also recognized the limitations of data collection.

RPEI has sought ways to maximize transparency, which is a powerful tool against the wage gap. We have encouraged colleagues to share compensation data with each other and to better utilize the salary studies and surveys provided by their professional organizations. But most importantly, the placement commissions of these professional organizations are in the process of requiring or strongly recommending synagogues participating in the placement process list a proposed salary range, instead of leaving the information blank or saying, “commensurate with experience.” The Joint Commission on Rabbinic Placement (URJ and Central Conference of American Rabbis) has already made this mandatory, while the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) educates synagogues on Pay Equity issues, asking them to list a salary range. The ACC has not moved to a mandatory model due to the wide breadth of years of experience individuals bring to cantorial positions.

We have invested in educating professionals and lay leaders, speaking at Reform Movement gatherings: major organizations’ board meetings, social action forums, numerous conferences, and at our Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. RPEI has engaged experts to teach negotiation skills for women and Jewish ethical employment in many of these forums. We have urged our Jewish professionals to be active partners by educating their congregations by using their different expert educational modes: teaching, preaching, writing, singing about the wage gap, especially around Equal Pay Day. Many women have sought help navigating their personal wage gap; Reform congregations have reviewed their compensation structures. In addition, non-Reform Movement organizations, Jewish professional groups, and seminaries have requested input to understand the best practices of documenting and amending pay inequities.

RPEI has created important resources, all outward facing. Filled with information and guidance, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative website is hosted by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) but is accessible to all. There visitors will find topical resource tabs, including on negotiation skills, teaching & preaching, and implicit bias, but more importantly, there are two curated portals, one for employees and another for employers, meaning for both Jewish professionals and lay leaders employment stakeholders. These portals direct the visitor towards the resources customized to their needs.

An important resource create by RPEI and found on its website is The Reform Jewish Quarterly fall 2018 issue. It contains a symposium on Pay Equity with twelve articles exploring the topic. There are study guides, providing instant lessons tailored to adult education, board training, or search/hiring committee training. The CCAR has generously made these articles and study guides open to the public without the usual fee.

In the coming months there will be an in-depth ‘negotiation skills for women’ tool and an implicit bias training for search committees. The website will continue to evolve to provide the best educational materials, interventions, and training materials for employees and employers. The seventeen organizations of RPEI will further educate our Movement and imbed Jewish ethical employment practices into every stage of hiring and employment.

The members of the Reform Pay Equity Initiative invite others, both within the Jewish community and beyond, to make use of our model and resources. Copy us, please.

Executive Director of Women’s Rabbinic Network, Rabbi Mary L. Zamore co-leads RPEI with Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Zamore is on the steering committee of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition. Her newest anthology is The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic (CCAR Press: 2019).