Where are the women?

Few Jewish communities are as rich in leadership as the Bay Area. Our region has produced sterling leaders, some of national prominence, in every realm of Jewish communal life.

So why run a story about the serious shortage of qualified Jewish community leaders?

It’s simple. Our community does not exist in a vacuum. We in the Bay Area are deeply interconnected with the wider Jewish world and we are not immune to problems that impact others. Problems like the leadership shortfall. The fact that the S.F.-based federation has been without a permanent CEO for more than a year only proves the point.

While there is unanimous agreement that Phyllis Cook has done a commendable job filling in as interim CEO, there is equal consensus that the position has gone unfilled for too long.

There are many explanations for the lack

of a “deep bench,” as demographer Gary Tobin calls this shortfall of leaders. But let us focus here on just one: the proverbial glass ceiling.

On a national level, relatively few women make it to the most-senior posts. Thankfully, we in the Bay Area can point with pride to leaders like Anita Friedman, director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Abby Snay, director of Jewish Vocational Services, as well as Cook.

Yet, as detailed in Tobin’s 2004 report on the development of professional leadership in the Jewish community, gender remains a key factor in the leadership gap.

In our region, we still have only a handful of women serving as senior rabbis. With women comprising half of the students enrolled in rabbinical and cantorial schools today, this makes no sense.

Anecdotal evidence in the Bay Area indicates many women are active in leadership training, lay volunteer efforts and other programs. So why do relatively few women hold top posts? It’s a fair question to ask and a serious problem to remedy.

In terms of breaking through the glass ceiling, we must do better. Not because it’s the politically correct thing to do (though it is that), but because we cannot afford to do without the energies, talents and gifts of Jewish women.

Will the S.F.-based federation hire a woman as its next CEO? If she’s qualified, we certainly hope so.

It has been said that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. This certainly should be true in the Jewish communal world.

Despite whatever challenges the future may hold, let us agree to commit to shattering the glass ceiling once and for all.


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