‘It’s time that Jews counted too’

As Equality, Diversity and Inclusion spread in the corporate world, two professionals are seeking to bring Jews into the conversation


Many Jewish people report not feeling comfortable revealing their religious identity in the workplace (Photo: Getty Images)

Many a modern office has equality, diversity and inclusion processes (EDI), but when October 7 hit, it became clear that the concept of diversity in the workplace did not always include Jews.

EDI, D&I, or ‘die’ as it is sometimes referred to, has permeated most aspects of the corporate world, from job applications to workplace events. It is "about creating working environments and cultures where every individual can feel safe [...] and is empowered to achieve their full potential,” according to the Human Resource Management Association.

EDI has led to the establishment of staff networks, sometimes called employee resource groups (Ergs), to provide “safe spaces” for people who share a particular characteristic. Black employees and other ethnic minorities, those experiencing menopause or working parents might form distinct groups, for example.

Yet many workplaces with Ergs do not have a Jewish group. As minorities go, Jews are among the smallest and do not easily fit into pre-existing networks. In some workplaces, Jews are invited to join a network for religiously observant staff, but for secular or cultural Jews, this would not be relevant for them. Some report feel uncomfortable being on a ‘list’ with fellow Jewish employees.

Erg or not, after October 7, Jews in workplaces – like everywhere else – were suddenly hit with an up-tick in antisemitism and, in some offices, a feeling of total isolation.

Forty per cent of Jewish employees experienced Jew hate in the workplace after October 7, according to research published by Work Avenue in January. Some reported that their colleagues had denied what had happened on October 7, while others said that colleagues used age-old antisemitic tropes about money and influence.

On average, we spend more time at work than in bed, so discrimination at work can be overwhelming. Employees turn to human resources departments (HR) when workplace disputes emerge – but some HRs struggle with complaints about antisemitism.

In the midst of this, two initiatives have been aiming to shift the dial, making the corporate world more welcoming for Jews.

Daniel Levy and Rachel Vecht each run virtual webinars with HR staff from UK workplaces who want to include Jews in their diversity, equality and inclusion programmes but might not be sure how to. 

Both Levy and Vecht advocate for open communication and the option of a Jewish staff network. Sometimes, a WhatsApp group is enough for colleagues to come together and lean on each other for support, they say.

Both of the HR professionals find themselves explaining that, for many, Judaism is a cultural and ethnic identity. Levy tells his attendees: “We’re an ethnicity first and foremost.”

In one of Levy’s sessions with Jhive, his Jewish EDI outfit, HR directors diuscuss the challenges of Jewish inclusion.

“It’s hard because I cannot identify who my Jewish employees are,” says one EDI lead at a large corporation, who added that she might have a Jewish colleague sitting next to her and not even know.

“I wanted to reach out to my Jewish staff [after October 7], but I didn’t know who they were, and I didn’t want to ‘out’ anyone,” another HR leader said.

Levy has worked with 19 organisations, ranging from global charities to multi-national entertainment corporations, which represent a workforce of 144,000 in the UK.

He faced antisemitism in a previous workplace and founded Jhive as a network for the community to find jobs that allow for employees to leave in time for Shabbat. The charity evolved and now specialises in Jewish EDI – or “Jedi” as Levy calls it.

Levy says that antisemitism training and Jewish Ergs can help companies “create a workplace where Jewish employees feel acknowledged, heard, valued and included, mirroring the broader inclusivity and respect extended to other ethnic groups.”

Meanwhile, Rachel Vecht has worked in diversity and inclusion for 22 years but never mentioned that she was Jewish. She says that everything changed on October 7 when she was in Israel with her children. The HR guru took to LinkedIn to tell her followers: “Your Jewish colleagues, clients and suppliers are not ok. Let’s have a conversation about how you can support them.”

Her post snowballed. An HR director at a prestigious law firm told Vecht that after 27 years of “looking after people”, they had never addressed antisemitism or Jewish inclusion. Before long, Vecht’s inbox was flooded with requests for workshops on antisemitism in the workplace and she established Understanding Antisemitism Matters.

She connected with Michal Oshman, the former global head of culture at TikTok, and the pair hosted round table discussions, with hundreds of different companies sharing their challenges. Stories emerged of senior partners at law firms crying in office toilets because of antisemitism at work.

“We needed to support workplaces in the short term,” Vecht says, and she realised that she was in a position to educate non-Jewish people about how their Jewish employees were feeling.

In webinars, Vecht delivers a ten-minute history of antisemitism. She focuses on how the hatred is “over 2,000 years old, the oldest form of hatred, and is a form of racism like all other forms of racism.”

Both Vecht and Levy start their sessions with their own experiences. Vecht tells workshop participants “how it feels if you have a bag of kosher food on the tube and trying to hide what is in the bag, so people around don’t know you’re Jewish. Attendees’ mouths are wide upon when they hear this.”

She has found herself up in the middle of the night facilitating sessions in Australia, such is the global demand.

Incorporating the language of workplace inclusion into educating about antisemitism is essential, says Vecht. The phrase, “Bring your whole self to work” is a popular one, but Vecht says that for many Jewish employees, this is not possible.

Vecht herself was never previously comfortable revealing her Jewish identity in her HR workshops. “I never felt like I could show up as my whole self at work. Work never reflected my own experience, but I didn’t realise until October 7.” 

That day was a turning point for Vecht, who began to share that she was Jewish with colleagues and clients. It was a risk for the freelance diversity professional, but her thinking was: “What on earth was I doing, especially being in this world of inclusive culture? If people don’t want to work with me because I am Jewish then I don’t want to work with them.”

Levy says many employees hide their Jewish identity at work. “The unfortunate reality that individuals in our community feel compelled to hide their identity at work serves as a stark wake-up call for corporate leaders.”

“This idea of psychological safety at work – I can be myself at work – for Jews, this might not be the case,” Vecht adds. “I used to not feel that I wanted to share I was Jewish. My grandmother was a holocaust survivor. I grew up with generational trauma, but I didn’t want to expose myself or enter a conversation about politics and Israel at work.”

And there lies the crux for Jewish EDI: how does a workplace address Israel and should they have to?

Both Vecht and Levy are happy to talk about Israel in their sessions, but they focus on the experience of being Jewish in the workplace outside of Israel.

“We talk about how the war impacts people in the workplace. Some of us were treated like we had a mental health problem after October 7, with managers telling Jews not to come to work. This wasn’t helpful; we needed to feel supported and not shunned,” Vecht says.

The next challenge is interactions with colleagues on social media. “If a Jewish employee is working in a team and a colleague sees what they really think on social media – that they celebrate the death of Jews – this can be damaging,” Vecht says. “We try to explain how it feels [to see antisemitism on social media from colleagues].”

On LinkedIn, Vecht has a huge network of people in the EDI space. "For every other topic, they’re writing about it and are empathetic about it. But on October 7 and just afterwards, mostly they didn’t say anything.”

“If you are working in diversity and inclusion, surely you should embrace everyone and not share your own political views on a conflict.”

Indeed, for some HR leads, Jewish inclusion is still not a priority and they have not taken up the training – despite the free offer. Vecht says it is the smaller companies who want to host sessions on antisemitism. “There is one company that I have done 67 talks with, and they wouldn’t do this session. There is a lot of fear.”

“They don’t want to create any division within the company, and they see that on social media or from statements put out by companies that stuff can blow up on internal staff communications platforms. They think this is a tricky topic – it is blown out of proportion compared to other issues.”

Yet she is clear that for a “culture of inclusion” in the workplace, EDI must include Jews: “This is about people, not politics, it is basic humanity.”

She hopes that during her sessions, attendees leave with understanding. “Come with curiosity and leave with empathy and understanding. Empathy is an over-flowing bucket, just because you have it for one group of people doesn’t mean you don’t have it for another.”

Levy adds: "EDI is here to stay, so we have to work with it and not against it. As a community, we cannot solve the problem of antisemitism. However, we can build bridges by educating corporates about the community, its makeup and the Jewish faith.”

“Everybody functions better when they can be authentic and be honest,” Vecht says. “We have created an environment where we are more open. We get the odd Jewish person who says we should keep ourselves to ourselves and I understand why people feel the need to hide, but we have a duty to educate. Now everyone is so keen on educating on every topic under the sun, we can add Judaism.”

As more and more workplaces plan EDI training, Levy and Vecht hope that Jewish inclusion becomes part of the conversation – and their sessions with HR workers will play a role in shaping a more inclusive corporate culture.

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