Who do You Choose to Hire for Leadership Positions?

By Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, Sara Shapiro-Plevan and Allison Fine

One women was told that she did not have enough experience for the job, when in fact she had fifteen years more experience than the man who was ultimately hired. Another woman was told that the search committee did not think she could handle the high-level job since she was single mother of two kids. A third went through an extensive interview process, and found out she was denied the job because one of the major funders wanted a man in the role.

These are just a few stories we have heard about the challenges women face when applying for top jobs in the Jewish community. Women make up 70% of the workforce in the Jewish community yet fill only 30% of the top positions according to research done by Gali Cooks, Executive Director of Leading Edge, an organization seeking to expand the pipeline for talent in the Jewish community. Something is clearly off here. Why are women not being promoted? Why do they not have access to the top positions?

The Jewish community is not alone in facing this problem. This past weekend, there were two articles in The New York Times which explored the dearth of women in leadership roles in major corporations and on boards. In her article, “A Seat at the Table,” Emily Bazelon interviews two leading researchers, Katherine Phillips of Columbia University and Shelley Correll of Stanford University about why women are not advancing more in corporate America. These researchers point out that it is hard for the population in power, men, to make room at the table for others, women. Men in power hire and promote other men who reflect their own experiences. Even though studies have shown that a diverse staff tends to positively benefit a company, those in power think that only those like them can take leadership roles. Phillips and Correll argue that we need to break down stereotypes of what a leader looks like, and rewrite job descriptions so that a more diverse group of people will be attracted to applying for a particular job. They also advocate clear scorecards for performance reviews so that men and women can be judged on what they have actually achieved rather than on personality traits.

The Jewish community can apply their research to our own organizations. At The Gender Equity in Hiring Project, we are learning from the latest findings on how best to help promote women in the workplace and are crafting seminars to bring these findings to those in positions to hire others in the Jewish community. We are hosting our first seminars this spring and invite applications for one of the following dates: April 1st, May 19th, and June 3rd. These one-day seminars are just the beginning. The goals of the seminars are to familiarize participants with how and why gender biases continue to plague our organizations and empower participants with specific strategies and steps to bring back home. Then, participants will stay networked together in order to support each other in the work, and continue to share best practices and new research.

Attending a one-day seminar will not radically change the culture of leadership in the Jewish community. However, a sustained community of men and women, volunteer lay leaders and professionals who make hiring decisions can over the next several years have a large impact! Current leaders will choose the next generation. Who you select to advance now matters greatly.

We invite anyone who is interested in working with us on this culture change to join us. We need men, women, non-binary people, lay volunteers, and professionals to educate themselves about gender issues in hiring and promotions. Please apply to join us here. We look forward to working with you!

Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, Sara Shapiro-Plevan and Allison Fine are Founders of the Gender Equity in Hiring in the Jewish Community Project. The Project is generously funded by The Jewish Theological Seminary Seeds of Innovation Fund and the Safety, Respect, Equity,Coalition.