Memo to the (Federation) File: It is time for the “He” to be a “She”

December 15, 2008

This past week I had the unusual opportunity to participate in breakfast briefings with two outstanding professionals that head two important international Jewish organizations. First, I attended a small breakfast with Robert Singer, Director General of World ORT.  Then two days later I was invited to the home of our local Federation president for a breakfast briefing by Moshe Vigdor, the Directory General of the Jewish Agency. Both men are impressive and both men projected skill and confidence even when discussing the immense challenges their respective organizations face in these uncertain economic times.  Reflecting back on both meetings, both educated me about the issues facing international Jewry, and both reminded me of the importance of organizational excellence.  Two meetings, two outstanding men.

But as I look back at the similarities of the meetings, here’s the question that is most on my mind…

What about the women?

I have thought a great deal about this question recently, in part because of my two daughters, but also in part because the absence of women professional leadership in Jewish organizations is conspicuous to those of us who spend a great deal of time in Jewish communal affairs. When I look around my own community in Atlanta I see a substantial number of women in volunteer leadership roles, presidents of federation, schools, the JCC, synagogues and so on.  And I see women in numerous professional roles in those same organizations.  In fact, I see Jewish women in all aspects of Jewish life except in one place…

… at the very top.

I know that I am not the first to notice (or bemoan) this fact, and I have found several resources that have been instructive on shaping my perspective on the matter.  Most substantially, I have found the report “Creating Gender Equity and Organizational Effectiveness in the Jewish Federation System: A Research-and-Action Project” prepared on behalf of Advancing Woman Professionals and the Jewish Community and United Jewish Communities to be a helpful (albeit four-year old) point of reference in my statistical understanding of the issue.

There is a significant amount of research on the question of where women are at in professional Federation leadership, and there even has been some action.  But clearly not enough.

So here is one piece of advice on how to take action, substantial and meaningful action, in addressing the woman deficit in CEO roles at international and national Jewish organizations:

Make sure the next CEO of United Jewish Communities is a woman.

I suggest this knowing full well that some critics might assert that I am proposing status outweigh merit.  That is not the case at all. Especially since I believe that there are several qualified candidates that would have both status AND merit. Focused searches are frequently used to find CEOs that have key attributes that an organization needs, and this case would be no different.  If UJC is serious about taking action to put women leaders in top positions throughout the Federation system (a clear and important need), then the best place to start is at the very top.  That would be action that is well overdue.

Much has been made of the nature and power of women’s philanthropy and the annual Lion of Judah conference held recently in Israel amply showcased way women personify such power and generosity.  But women have more to offer the Federation system than just their dollars and their wisdom in leadership of our volunteer and lay organizations. They also offer skill, perspective and judgment that can lead our professional organizations as well.

The UJC website notes that “Jewish women are setting the standard for creative philanthropic giving and commitment to future generations.”  I could not agree more. But it is time to change website rhetoric into organizational action.  If UJC wants to take a bold step in demonstrating its commitment to future generations of women in the field it will make sure that it sets the standard by selecting a woman as its next professional leader.

It’s time for the “he” to be a “she” – and with all due respect to Robert and Moshe, I look forward to seeing “her” at a breakfast briefing in Atlanta sometime soon.



  1. Seth, as an early Chanuka gift, I am sending you a copy of Shifra Bronznick’s book “Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life”. Lets have a chat about what you (and your fellow fellows) can do to help move the agenda forward once you’re done reading.

  2. […] I previously wrote that the next CEO of UJC/Federations of North America should be an outsider and should be a woman. So, although one out of two isn’t bad, we should make no mistake – we still need more […]

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