NEW YORK (Sep. 27)
A national study surveying the attitudes of women engaged professionally in Jewish schools has revealed that most of them believe either direct or indirect sexual discrimination prevents them from advancing to administrative and executive positions, the American Association for Jewish Education (AAJE) reported this week.
At the same time, a majority of the same respondents declared that the paucity of women administrators in Jewish education is due, in large measure, to a lack of desire among women teachers to seek higher posts and the career limitations that they place upon themselves.
The study was conducted among 300 women in nine metropolitan communities–83 percent of whom are teachers in Jewish schools, the remainder administrators, guidance counselors and other non-teaching personnel–in order to determine why they feel so few women are engaged in supervisory roles in a field which, as teachers, they dominate numerically.
“The study confirms our suspicion that most women in Jewish education perceive discrimination against them on the basis of sex but are generally reluctant to rock the boat,” said Arthur Brody, president of the AAJE. “These disturbing findings raise the question of whether the Jewish educational and communal establishment recognizes the disservice it does to women in the profession when it restricts their options for advancement.”
CROSS-SECTION OF WOMEN SURVEYED
The study was conducted by Dr. Murray Rockowitz, former director of the AAJE’s Department of Statistical Research and Information, and Dr. Gerhard Lang, consultant to the Department. It surveyed a representative cross-section of women in Jewish education on the basis of age, marital status, ideological identification, general and Jewish educational background, length of teaching experience and types of schools in which they are employed. The study found that 34 percent of the respondents believed outright sexual discrimination was a major reason so few of them held administrative positions.
“The innovative and expert skills of well-educated and efficient women are being misused by male superiors who think of them and treat them as ‘girls,'” said one teacher. Another woman presently occupying a leadership position in her school stated that “there is a great deal (of sexual bias) in the school board citywide. They are all male and Orthodox (double whammyl) and at the beginning it blew their minds that a woman was a top executive.”
However, a far larger number–61 percent of the respondents–said that “the traditional concepts of the role of Jewish women” by the male-dominated religious and communal establishment constitute a more subtle and covert brand of discrimination against their promotion. This was described by many as eventuating into a kind of “Catch 22″ situation. On the one hand, women are told that an administrator requires a strong talmudic background, even though little of Torah, Mishna and Talmud is generally drawn upon in the performance of their administrative duties.
On the other hand, woman are not given the same opportunity as man, particularly in traditional Judaism, to acquire such a background, according to the study. Indeed, 14 percent listed that very reason, “lack of training,” for not attempting to move up the career ladder. Still another manifestation of indirect discrimination was what 41 percent termed “lack of career information.” Respondents charged that they were not being informed of the possibilities for professional advancement where these do exist.
FACTORS CITED IN STUDY
The study was set up to enable those surveyed, if they wished, to name more than one reason for the discrepancy in the number of women in teaching positions in Jewish schools as against those in supervisory positions. Therefore, while discrimination in one form or another was viewed as the major obstacle, 52 percent also cited women’s own “lack of desire” to become administrators.
The combination of these and other factors is believed accountable for the fact that only slightly more than half the teachers surveyed (54 percent) even “considered” an administrative position, while but 31 percent applied for and just 20 percent actually occupied such a post.
The women who stated they would not even entertain undertaking a leadership assignment gave a variety of reasons for their attitudes, ranging from their reluctance to relocate because of their husband’s job to their personal preference to remain in the classroom. But the most frequent answer received (34 percent) was that an administrative position “entails too much time and responsibility and thus may interfere with my family life and obligations.”
NEWER BREED OF JEWISH WOMEN
In analyzing these responses, Lang said that many Jewish women feel that “gender currently operates as a determinant of what they should and can do,” and that “their first priority remains a traditional one: the family’s needs come first.”
For such women, he said, there is “a presumption that the family unit is more important than a job if money is not the issue and that a leadership position is too rigorous in its demands and would interfere with a woman’s responsibilities to her family.” Conversely, Lang noted that the study revealed “a newer breed of Jewish women” who, although in the minority among the respondents, “indicated a desire to obtain leadership positions within Jewish education.”
He described this group as being younger, better educated and having strong Jewish studies backgrounds and, as well, as perceiving a need to upgrade Jewish education and the teaching selection process. However, Lang pointed out that some of these women, discouraged by the presence of sexual discrimination, “are opting for careers outside of Jewish education which offer greater status and remuneration.”