'Gender equality here to stay in Jewish community'

By Jessica Elgot, July 5, 2012
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A “kitemark” for Jewish organisations that actively seek out women for leadership roles will make sure gender equality stays on the agenda, according to the final report from the Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership (CWJL).

Supporters at the launch of the CWJL report, headed by Board of Deputies senior vice-president Laura Marks, privately expressed relief that the recommendations had been approved by the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC).

One said the CWJL had had to work “with the grain” of the conservative JLC, “rather than propose radical change, and negotiate back from the impossible”.

Quotas and set targets for women in Jewish organisations were not recommended by the committee — despite a survey that found one third of British Jews thought communal organisations should positively discriminate in favour of senior female candidates. But Ms Marks said nothing the CWJL had proposed had been “vetoed” by the JLC.

Movement for Reform Judaism chief executive Ben Rich said: “Pressure on organisations to achieve this kitemark, rather than fixed, but unenforceable targets, is clever.

"The need to be seen to be ‘keeping up with the Cohens’ will be the driving force for implementation. Not every organisation has ‘bought-in’ but nobody will want to be seen to be lagging behind. In the long-term, they’ll see it as a benefit we can’t ignore.”

Ms Marks said targets had to be set individually. “Some have different needs than others and some have a lot further to go.

“There will probably be higher and lower versions of the award, be it gold, silver or bronze, but details have not been worked out. There are no organisations which have nothing left to achieve.”

She said she hoped the JLC member organisations, including Bicom, the Board of Deputies, Norwood, Jewish Care, CST and the United Synagogue, would “lead the way” by signing up to the award scheme.

Liberal Judaism’s Rabbi Danny Rich said that since the commission had begun, his movement now has 50 per cent female trustees.

“I have actively gone out to look for women who are the right profile for the job. That is positive discrimination, but I don’t need to go looking for the men for the roles, because they put themselves forward.”

Simon Morris, chief executive of Jewish Care, said the charity would “work hard at putting the recommendations into practice: this is a very important piece of work”.

Other recommendations include setting up an Equality Support Group by late September to monitor progress, including an independent chair. A mentoring pilot for 10 lay and professional women leaders will run later this year and a course for six senior professional women, on gender issues, will be organised for spring 2013.

The JLC has lost one of its few female members this week, as Frank Baigel replaces Lucille Cohen as president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council.

Last updated: 1:38pm, July 5 2012