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Study of Jcc Personnel Finds Mixed Reviews on Career Issues

May 8, 2002
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Jewish community center professionals are happy with their day-to-day work, but are less satisfied when it comes to salaries, on-the-job training, recognition and possibilities for growth and advancement, according to a new study.

And while women, who make up the overwhelming majority of JCC employees, have made strides in the past 15 years, men still dominate in executive positions and tend to earn more than women in comparable positions.

The recent survey of almost 1,800 people working in North American JCCs — one of the largest employers of Jewish communal professionals — comes amid widespread concern that the Jewish community faces a major shortage in personnel.

The study, conducted for the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, also comes amid efforts to increase the number of women in top professional roles in the Jewish community.

A $1 million national initiative, Advancing Women Professionals, is working with four pilot Jewish organizations to address gender issues in the workplace.

The JCCA is not one of the pilot groups.

The JCCA study, conducted by Steven M. Cohen, who directs research for the organization, found that women comprise 72 percent of JCC employees, but only 26 percent of JCC executive directors.

However, the percentage of female executive directors has increased dramatically from 1987, when only 6 percent of these directors were women.

Women working in JCCs earn less than their male colleagues, according to the study. Whereas 20 percent of all male JCC professionals earn $100,000 or more, fewer than 3 percent of women do.

When adjusted for the same job responsibilities and seniority level, women earn less for equal work. For example, women executive directors earn $9,500 less than male colleagues with similar positions and female assistant executive directors earn $18,820 less than men, according to the findings. The study is prompting the JCCA to try to address some personnel concerns at a time when many Jewish leaders cite problems in recruiting new personnel for Jewish education, the rabbinate and Jewish organizations.

In response to the concern, the federation system’s United Jewish Communities recently hired a new professional to focus on personnel issues in the federation world as well as in Jewish communal service in general.

Joel Ollander, executive director of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, a professional body for Jewish communal professionals, said filling entry- and mid-level jobs is a challenge across the field.

Those Jewish professionals who stick it out more than five years, Ollander said, are generally rewarded with “a significant position and good salary” and report high levels of job satisfaction.

However, with starting salaries low, hours long and many people in the field saddled with debts from graduate school, many professionals leave for the for-profit sector after only a few years in Jewish communal service, he said.

Despite this challenge, the JCCA study reports that staff turnover has actually decreased in the past 15 years, with only 10 percent of employees reporting they have been at the JCC less than a year, compared with 37 percent in 1987.

However, about 14 percent of JCC professionals say they are definitely or probably leaving the JCC field. And turnover is highest among the recently hired workers in small JCCs and non-Jews working at JCCs.

The wage gap between entry-level staff and senior professionals has grown since 1987.

Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCCA, said the JCCs have formed a task force to explore the possibility of upgrading salaries, equalizing women’s salaries and recruiting more people at the entry level.

The study also points to the need for more recognition and ongoing professional development for employees, he said.

In addition to showing the need for improvement, the study also recognizes the success of several JCC programs, Finkelstein said.

He cited as examples professional development trips to Israel and scholarships for students in Jewish service graduate programs.

Seventy-four percent of Jewish JCC professionals have been to Israel, as compared with less than half that number among American Jews as a whole. The study cites the 1990 National Jewish Population Study figure of 33 percent of American Jews having visited Israel.

In addition, 49 percent of Jewish JCC professionals have visited Israel at least twice.

JCC professionals who were recipients of JCC scholarships in graduate school are more Jewishly committed, more committed to Jewish communal service and earn higher salaries than their colleagues, according to the survey.

Th study also reports that Jewish staff members at JCCs are more likely to be synagogue members, have Jewish friends and be Jewishly identified in other ways than typical American Jews.

The study does not include teachers in JCC pre-schools, who are being studied separately.

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