by Carrie Bornstein
Last week I attended Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community’s “Changing the Future, Now!” conference. I entered the day feeling confident about our work in promoting gender equality; after all, for twelve years Mayyim Hayyim’s staff, board, and volunteers have primarily been women.
But I was taken aback early on in the day. Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Executive Director at the Manny Cantor Center, greeted the group with a reality check. She praised each of us in the room for attending, with our varied stories of promoting women’s voices and advancing women’s leadership. “We are all a part of the solution,” she said.
The surprise came next: “And we are all a part of the problem.”
She went on to describe those of us in the room who tout ourselves for being change makers, but who haven’t made change anytime recently. Or those of us who fail to mentor another woman with subconscious fear that we’re creating our own competition.
That day there was talk of the non-existent evil man. “No one is sitting around in a board room thinking to himself, ‘How can I suppress women’s voices today?’ ‘Who can I engage with me to make sure that women are paid less than their male counterparts for the same job?’ ‘What policies can I put in place to ensure that no woman will rise to senior leadership in this organization?’”
And of course, these issues are all too real.
If we think to ourselves that our work is done because we “get it,” that all that’s left to do is call out other people for their missteps, then change will never happen.
I left that day feeling the importance of promoting women’s leadership, even (especially?) at a place like Mayyim Hayyim. Whether Executive Director or intern or lay person, whether male or female, whether Reform or Orthodox, we each have a job to do in promoting gender equity: publicly celebrating those who advocate for themselves, helping to enhance critical workplace skills that are not typically associated with being “feminine,” and keeping the mirror close enough to our faces that we can articulate how we are each part of the solution, and how we are each part of the problem.
Care to share? How do you help promote gender equity? How might you be standing in the way?