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Focus on Issues: Women Find Glass Ceilings in Jewish Communal World

October 21, 1993
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Female professionals working in the Jewish communal world have had little success breaking the glass ceiling and gaining entrance to the executive suite, according to data recently gathered by the Council of Jewish Federations and others.

In this sense, the Jewish community is not much different from corporate America, where only 1 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a woman chief executive officer, and only 5 percent of board members are female.

It also means that the Jewish community has a long way to go before women’s voices and concerns will be fairly represented in Jewish communal life, say critics.

In a survey of 42 national Jewish agencies, including the American Jewish Congress, the Council of Jewish Federations, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Diana Aviv found that 37 are run by men.

Aviv is outgoing associate executive director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and will soon be the Washington representative of the Council of Jewish Federations.

A similar situation exists in Jewish community federations.

There are 157 Jewish federations with paid professional leadership; the 30 with women executive directors are nearly all small and mid-size.

While 60 percent of employees at federations are female, none of the 18 largest federations has a woman at the helm. There is only one woman director among the 23 larger intermediate-size federations: Cindy Chazen, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

One reason that more women are not federation directors is because the job requires financial management skills that most women do not possess, according to Barry Kosmin, director of research at the Council of Jewish Federations.


Fewer women have “the qualifications that are required,” he said. “Jewish women are going into medicine and law. But are they going into accountancy in equal numbers?”

The picture for female lay leaders is brighter. Among lay leaders, “things have changed faster than on the professional side because inherited wealth comes to both genders,” Kosmin said.

Female federation lay leaders are pulling the professionals after them.

“Women who are the leadership show support for women and are now looking to make a more equitable situation on the professional side,” Kosmin said.

Another trend boding well for the future of female leadership is the increased number of women running federation fund-raising campaigns, both on the lay and professional sides.

According to the results of a new survey by CJF, which will be released at that organization’s General Assembly next month in Montreal, about a third of the campaign directors in large and intermediate-size federations are women.

“As more women become campaign chairs they will be presidents of federations, and campaign directors will get into the executive suite,” said Kosmin.

At community relations councils, about half of directorships are held by women, but “the lion’s share of the larger CRC executive positions are held by men,” Aviv said recently in a speech at the Women’s Economic Summit in New York.

At the deputy level, jobs are shared almost evenly between men and women, she said, adding, however, that the councils “do not have substantial budgets nor wield a great deal of influence within the Jewish community.”

There also are pronounced disparities in pay for female and male federation professionals, in which the higher the level of management, the more disparity exists.

In entry-level positions, men and women earn the same, said Ellen Deutsch Quint, associate director of personnel services at the Council of Jewish Federations.


Senior-level female staff professionals in federations, however, earn between 67 percent and 92 percent of what men earn in comparable positions, Deutsch Quint said.

According to Aviv, one-fifth of men and two-thirds of women working in Jewish communal organizations earn between $20,000 and $40,000.

As the level of pay rises, the percentage of women in the earning category sinks.

Forty-five percent of men and 9 percent of women earn $65,000 or more in the Jewish communal world, said Aviv.

Deutsch Quint recently surveyed women in senior professional positions at federations and found that 80 percent of respondents said there are obstacles that keep women from attaining top federation staff positions.

The primary problems cited were the “old boys” network, which does the hiring for staff positions, and the fact that the candidates are selected on a male model of success, said Deutsch Quint.

Senior female professionals also cited relocation as a problem in climbing up the federation hierarchy, she said.

Most respondents said the relocation requirements, which are viewed as part and parcel of success in the federation world, are often not possible.

According to Aviv, however, “the relocation question is a red herring. It is usually the higher earner who is more likely to move whether it is male or female.”

What is required before more women can take their place running large communal organizations, say observers, are changes in family-friendly policies at Jewish agencies. Such changes will likely happen as women slowly make their way into the executive suites.

According to Chazen of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, changes in expectations come as women take the most senior jobs.

“I made it very clear to the search committee here that I would be at my desk from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. if I had to be. But I wouldn’t stay at my desk over the dinner hour or during Shabbat or holidays just to make the point I could do it,” she said.

“Setting up an infrastructure with more progressive policies is more difficult than conjuring up a woman to be a successful candidate for a top job,” said Kosmin. It is time “to start thinking about what kind of community we want.”

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