Tired of gender talk? I’m not!

In Short

I don’t have to go along to get along at the Men’s Leadership Club on my board and fight for my voice to be heard

I must admit, four years ago today, when I drove up to Towson University’s campus for the third time in my life I thought I was a shoo-in and knew exactly what I would be doing as the executive director of a medium-size Hillel. Four years and many gray hairs later, I wonder: Do I know what I am doing yet?!

Some of my first coffee dates were with federation stakeholders, Hillel International professionals and campus allies. I met with staff, students and previous employees to glean as much as possible from their collective institutional memory and experience. All of this groundwork was an attempt to learn as much as I could about the organization before I could guide its present and envision a robust future.   

I attended many meetings with the board chair before finally attending the first full board meeting. It was the first time I had actually run a board meeting. (Come to think of it, the only time I’d participated in one I was a featured staff presenter while serving in a previous position.)

I don’t think I was clueless. But I do remember thinking, “Is every Jewish nonprofit organization board filled with this many dudes?” When a woman (finally) walked into the board room, I remember thinking “Oh, thank goodness, a woman! And I love the dress!” 

Although I am an emotional and sensitive professional, I have always worked well with men. It didn’t occur to me until I completed one of my first local grant submissions that gender representation was imbalanced. One of the first questions on the application was: What is the ratio of male to female board membership? I was embarrassed to complete that part of the grant. Good Lord! My board was dominated by men, but why did it matter? We were doing good work, growing, raising money, getting organized, who cared? Red flag! I knew my goal for the following years had to be to increase female leadership—STAT! 

I know why it matters now. At our first board meeting this year our opening speakers were men: our board chair and a guest. Remarkably, the rest of the meeting was run by women: A beloved community member and motivational speaker, our development chair and me. Each of us had important things to contribute to our organization and to the personal lives of the others in the room. It would have been a different, and woefully inadequate experience without us. And—the ratio of attendees was 9 women: 11 men! 

I don’t have to go along to get along at the Men’s Leadership Club on my board and fight for my voice to be heard. I am proud that we have recognized and fulfilled the need for female leadership. There is tremendous value in what women bring to organizational life. There is a value in honoring women’s voices. 

This Shabbat is Family Weekend. I am an executive director of a dynamic and thriving organization, I observe Shabbat, and I am a mother of two. It is my daughter’s third birthday. I wrote to two female board members on the executive committee asking permission to leave an important campus Shabbat dinner early so I could spend five minutes with my daughter before bedtime. 

The only comments I got back were full of love, support and self-love for being a mother and honoring my daughter. I love being a woman, I love being a mother, I love being a Jewish professional and I love that now I have other Jewish women on my board who provide wisdom, comfort, and leadership—professionally and personally.


A woman not sick of talking about gender equality in the workplace 

Lisa Bodziner is executive director of Towson University Hillel.