Women are still not properly represented in communal leadership roles, according to leading female figures. And this lack of diversity may be having a negative effect on the community.
As part of International Women’s Day, a number of Jewish women spoke to the JC to reflect on their own experiences. They flagged up issues ranging from flexibility to “cultural” issues.
Claudia Mendoza, head of policy and research at the Jewish Leadership Council, said that a lack of flexible working environments was stopping women from taking up leadership roles in the community.
She said: “I’ve had two babies since I’ve been in my role and I’ve been given all the flexibility I’ve needed to do that.
“I can grow as a leader in my role because I’m given that opportunity but I have had friends who work in the community who have had the exact opposite.
“They are not given the flexibility to work around children, or married life, and they are overlooked for certain roles or responsibilities.
“When that happens they end up feeling dissatisfied and resenting who they work for and leaving altogether.”
Dina Brawer, the UK ambassador for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said that women in senior leadership roles needed to be “better represented”.
She added: “The community is deprived of women’s voices, perspectives and talent and is poorer for it.”
Mrs Brawer who is currently studying for ordination at Yeshivat Maharat, the women's seminary in New York, continued: “There is a whole lot of noise emerging from certain Orthodox quarters opposing female religious leadership but I don’t take that as a personal criticism.
“I just think they are wrong. The fact remains that I regularly speak about female religious leadership to Jewish audiences all over the UK as well as abroad and I am always amazed by the enthusiasm and encouragement I receive.”
Mrs Mendoza, who said she had benefited from taking part in the Adam Science Foundation Leadership Programme, said that she did not believe organisations should adopt quotas to get more women into leadership roles as they “don’t help things and can create more problems.
However, she added: “I think it is important to work with women, and to train them in leadership roles.”
“It’s not a popular thing to say but men and women are different. We have different strengths and bring different things to the table.
“A lot of women feel the pressure to act manly or be assertive in order to be a good leader. But if you have strong emotional intelligence then that is a really strong leadership skill too. We need to train women to harness what they have.”
Laura Marks, co-chair of the Women in Jewish Leadership group (WJL), which was originally set up by the JLC and supported by the Board of Deputies, said the group had “done what it needed to do within its context.”
“But that doesn’t mean there is not still work to do,” she said.
She said that thanks to the group, whose work is coming to a close, “there is awareness of the need to have more women in leadership roles and awareness around the lack of them being there.”
But said, she thought it was often difficult for women to take on leadership roles in the community, because “it is a cultural issue”.
She explained: “When you look at many faith communities, it’s our way of life, and the traditions that all come in to play that stop women.”
The former senior vice president at the Board and Mitzvah Day founder, said that when she left her position two years ago there were more women at the top of the Board than there had ever been.
But having women represented at the deputy level has always been a problem for the organisation.
“I think the percentages have gone down even more now. We need to look at why that is happening.”
And she revealed that she avoided feeling overlooked or shut out in the community by creating opportunities for herself.
“I like setting things up so I have managed to by passed the male mechanisms in place” she said.
Nicky Goldman director of Lead, the JLC’s training division, said that she had only ever been supported to be a leader and that “seeing other women in leadership positions encourages others to do it.”
“The community leadership looked very different when I started out in my career; there were very few women,” she added. “But I was always a bit of a feminist and I thought I can do it anyway.”