Women still absent from Jewish leadership

Fewer than a quarter of the trustees of leading Jewish organisations in the UK are women, according to a report from a commission into women and leadership in British Jewry.

Only 21 per cent of trustees of organisations affiliated to the Jewish Leadership Council were women; only a quarter of those had female chief executives; and only a quarter of the members of the Board of Deputies were women, according to a survey taken last summer.

A few boards have since increased their female representation, the report notes. But, overall, it states: "There is very little to show that the representation of women in Jewish leadership roles has substantially improved over the last decade or two."

There was also "little evidence of change" among a younger generation, with only three women chairing the Union of Jewish Students in 30 years and a predominance of male leaders among youth movements.

Gender equality should now be the norm - but it isn't

"The situation is a real predicament as gender equality should now be the norm," it concludes.

"Even more compelling, however, is evidence which suggests that organisations are actually more effective with better gender-balanced leadership." The current under-representation was "a community issue, not a women's issue", it says.

The commission - chaired by Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks and set up by the JLC - is now launching a community-wide consultation to discuss remedies for change, including a proposal to have quotas for the number of women on charity boards.

"Women in the community seem to feel disenfranchised and disconnected and they therefore choose not to get involved," the report says. "We also believe that the current routes to the top are ridden with barriers, rather than full of incentives, for women."

It cites several factors for the present situation including a belief that women lacked skills, particularly in fundraising, for communal leadership; the perceived persistence of an "old boys' network"; and lack of consideration for the demands of family life.

"Typically, a meeting will be at 7am in a West End boardroom or at 6.30 in the evening in the City, which is not very convenient if you are trying to get the kids to bed," Ms Marks said.

Last updated: 12:16pm, January 12 2012