Becoming better on gender in the workplace in the year ahead

As 2021 comes to a close, we as nonprofit leaders find ourselves existing in a kind of liminal space, sandwiched somewhere between the “before times” and aspirational “better times.” The “before times” would be those fictional, yet no less familiar, times in which leaders were trusted because of their knowledge, what they knew to be true. And leaders inspired others, because they were able to build on that knowledge to create a vision, a simultaneously aspirational and possible goal, that when reached would represent a future better than the present – for their teams, their organization, and for the issue they were trying to solve.

The 18th-century Jewish Hasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” This is both a fundamentally Jewish and nonprofit leadership principle: that we can become better tomorrow through our actions today. 

But how do we enter the next year after a challenging 2021, with the confidence that we have both the knowledge, and the inspiration, to forge ahead and be better?

First, by grounding ourselves in the real, tangible data points that have been collected in the areas of leadership and gender in the workplace that can serve to empower all leaders in creating a healthier and more just workplace and society tomorrow.

Five Things We Know Now:

We know we are still in the midst of the “Great Resignation.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 3% of the U.S. workforce resigned in October. The percentage of women either unemployed or looking for work dropped to the lowest level since February, and this is what drove the workforce participation drop that month. Experts guessed that schools reopening in the fall would support a return to the workforce for women. We know from the October jobs report that did not happen.We know that a gender gap persists in our nonprofit organizations, where 70% of the workforce identifies as female, but only 25% of the largest nonprofits are run by women, in contrast to 60% of the smallest nonprofits.We know that a gender pay gap of 13-20% persists in our nonprofit organizations for organizations of budgets over $1M, and increases as the organization budget size increases, according to Candid’s 2020 report.We know that the vast majority of women have experienced gender-based harassment in their lives, and roughly 40% have experienced it in the workplace in a diversity of sectors, from tech to the fast food industry, with a common risk factor being working in a setting with significant power differentials.And we know that gender-based discrimination and disrespectful behavior continues in workplaces, with Black women, women with disabilities and queer women most likely to have their competency questioned on the job and to experience other microagressions.

We also know that we are not currently doing enough to create and sustain diverse, healthy and equitable workplaces. 

The release earlier this month by Leading Edge of its Pilot CEO Survey of Jewish nonprofit leaders bears this out: 

One in every four CEO respondents indicated they had low confidence in creating and maintaining a great workplace culture68% cited DEI as their top growth area60% indicated they struggle with accountability in their workplace. 

These are all key growth areas that require time, attention and resources to make the year ahead one of new possibilities and growth.

So as we look to the year ahead, how do we begin the work of becoming better for ourselves and organizations?

With this collective knowledge as our north star, we reach out to our boards, our teams, our peer colleagues, and expert practitioners in our sector, and we develop an action plan to help create focus and a guide as we move into the next year.

Action Steps to Consider for Jewish Organizations:

For Jewish organizations, consider participating in the annual Leading Edge employee experience survey to get a clearer picture of your workplace culture strengths and growth opportunities.Engage your leadership team in taking a closer look at your existing standards for creating a safe, respectful and equitable workplace and preventing gender-based harassment and discrimination, and consult with existing free community resources on implementing standards in your workplace.Seek out expert advice on gender in the workplace, through organizational consultations, workplace training and cohort learning.Consider having your organization join a peer network where you can connect with and learn from other organizations grappling with the same knowns, unknowns, challenges and opportunities.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do as we close one year is to begin again.

Let’s begin 2022 with the premise that becoming better tomorrow is not just a possibility but an imperative. And let us embrace the teaching of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot that “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” The work is not there to be finished by us, but instead to be engaged in by us. 

Elana Wien is the executive director of SRE Network, a Jewish network of 150 organizations rooted in a shared commitment to safety, respect, and equity for all. SRE aims to inspire meaningful change in workplaces and communal spaces by bringing people together to address gender-based harassment, discrimination, and inequity through building community, research and learning, and strategic community investments, using an intersectional lens of gender justice. To learn more about the SRE Network visit srenetwork.org and view our SRE Network Standards for creating safe, respectful and equitable Jewish workplaces and communal spaces.

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