What We’re Hearing from the Field June 20 – July 17

By Leading Edge, Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute), Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, JPRO Network and UpStart

Each week, we speak with hundreds of CEOs, funders, volunteer leaders, and professionals at all levels from across the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we have been hearing most frequently and urgently during these past few weeks (June 20 – July 17). For our last summary of themes, see here.

CEOs Top Concerns & Needs:

  • As we pass the four-month mark of this crisis, the CEO experience continues to be varied. For some whose fiscal year began on July 1, this date represented a fresh start; for others, it exacerbated anxiety around the many unknowns with which we are all still contending. Themes we are seeing:
    • Restructuring and layoffs. Both are continuing and ever-evolving. Organizations that are more proactive in making these difficult decisions are faring better than those adhering to a wait-and-see approach. 
    • Energy and spirit. Those organizations that have been able to reframe this crisis as an opportunity and respond more entrepreneurially to it have been able to navigate this period more smoothly.
    • Employee needs. The organizations that are more responsive to employee needs have succeeded in creating more positive working environments, thus better positioning themselves for the long haul.
  • As issues of racial injustice, anti-Semitism, Israel, and other often-charged topics continue to emerge in professional and personal conversations, professional leadership needs to define meaningful organizational policies and procedures for media and social media. Specific concerns have arisen around:
    • If, when, and how to make a statement from the organization around these issues. Some leaders are opting for a “no statement” policy. Others are approaching this question on a case-by-case basis, guided by the values of their organization and the strategy of their work to determine if a statement is appropriate.  
    • The board’s role in these policies. 
    • What a CEO – in their role as a private citizen – can say publicly about issues.
    • Responding to demands for action from staff on these kinds of issues.
  • As organizations commit to social justice and anti-racism work, we are hearing that organizational leadership is struggling to find consulting and educational resources to support them in this effort. As a result, many Jews of Color (JOC) in our community are providing services or support around diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) and their capacity is being stretched. While this is not a new dynamic, it is heightened as the urgency to do something around racial inclusion has increased and outpaced the bench of JOC consultants and trainers in our community.

Professionalss Top Concerns & Needs:

  • As with the CEOs, professionals are experiencing the current environment with tremendous variance, driven by a variety of factors including personal responsibilities outside of work, the balance of workload, the stability of their organizations, and organizational culture. Some professionals are feeling energized and focused by their work, some can carve out time away to recharge, and others continue to sprint and feel stressed and scared. This spectrum of experience is shining a light on the lack of resource parity across the Jewish community. 
  • Many organizations have announced delays in returning to the workplace. In doing so, lay and executive leadership prioritized local health guidelines, emotional health, and work-life balance over the potential benefits of in-person work in the office. This prioritization is deeply appreciated and, at the same time, creates significant challenges for professionals in figuring out the complexities of life at this moment. Specifically, professionals are struggling with:
    • Financial burden. While commuting is a significant expense for many, extended remote work also brings financial concerns in areas such as new home technology, enhanced WiFi, air conditioning, etc. While some organizations have made arrangements for these details, others have not, and professionals do not necessarily have the means to absorb these added costs.
    • Relocation. Due to the challenges of working remotely, many professionals would like to relocate during this period -\ to leave COVID hot spots, seek less expensive housing, or be closer to family. Without knowing a concrete timeline for return, many professionals feel caught in uncertainty and unable to make any move.
    • School. The lack of clarity around school and childcare is placing enormous pressure on professionals who are parents. While the employer has no part in that decision, it is a compounding stressor that would be mitigated if professionals were given a clear sense of the extent to which organizations are willing/able to offer flexibility to employees and what the policies and expectations of such flexibility will be.

Board Members Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Boards are setting concrete policies around senior staff publishing opinion/and or advocacy pieces, both in their personal and professional capacities. There is often tension between senior staff and board on what constitutes personal statements, especially when a professional is the public face of an organization. There is now some push back on this dynamic, as these same expectations and standards do not seem to apply to board chairs who may also be public-facing figures and take polarizing positions.
  • As some early childhood centers, schools, and other social service organizations return to their facilities, there is escalated tension between the board and senior staff about their respective roles in decision-making, policy setting, and interpretation of the continually evolving safety guidelines. Those who have concrete decision-making policies are negotiating that line better than those who have not been proactive in doing so.
  • A bright spot amidst the challenges of the last four months is that board chairs and boards as a whole are much more focused on board engagement, including re-imagining onboarding, board meetings, board retreats, and creating relationships among board members given the physical distance. There has been much more creativity and thought put into how we use board member time and leverage their experience and skills.

The next Snapshot will be published Monday, August 17th.

Leading Edge
Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute)
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
JPRO Network