Please find an article I wrote for today’s edition of the Australian Jewish News!
“Last year, The Australian Jewish News ran a special edition which shone a light on women in board positions (or lack of) in the Jewish community. It was sparked by the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Vic) and its campaign to #Makespaceforher after their research showed a massive underrepresentation of women in communal leadership roles.
Last week, The AJN shone the light further – this time surveying the actual experiences of women in leadership roles within the Jewish community. The results were deeply troubling.
Over a third of the participants surveyed said they had experienced gender-based bullying and one fifth said they had experienced a form of sexual harassment. There were many other aspects surveyed and numerous other significant issues highlighted but these two were most alarming.
Following last year’s feature, conversations were certainly sparked, with many organisations reviewing their practices when it came to running events, ensuring women were included on panels, as well as appointing female board members.
I said at the time that some might claim or argue that this would lead to women being offered “token roles” or simply being asked to participate because they were female. I honestly do not think that is the case. Sadly, when there is a perpetuated injustice, it often takes overcorrecting to restore balance. More importantly, on this issue, as it is being corrected, it will demonstrate that this is not simply about having equal representation or ensuring a 50/50 split. It is about recognising and realising that the community has been far poorer for not hearing women’s voices for way too long.
Communities will realise that they want and need to hear their opinions and ideas. Not to make up numbers. But because we cannot reach our full potential without them.
This does require men and men in leadership roles to make these adjustments. Men need to be vocal about this. Men need to bring these issues to the forefront. Fortunately, I have seen numerous organisations being much more sensitive and alert to this. In fact I have been privy to conversations where a concerted effort was being to made to ensure women would be included and heard at various communal events.
While this might currently feel “forced” or require being actively cognisant and mindful, I believe “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. Including women will not just be a check box item but something that is par for the course. In fact, hopefully we will get to a place where it will seem counterintuitive or strange if women are being excluded or missing from the conversation. We will feel the picture is only half painted without their input.
The issue highlighted last week is yet another crucial front we urgently need to tackle.
If the results did not make you uncomfortable then that is part of the problem. Most importantly, we must not say “I can’t help”, “It’s not my problem”, “the government is working on it” or “let the rabbis deal with it”. Each of us has a role to play. No matter how big or small that role might be.
Strategies range from continuing to shine a light (as The AJN has done) on this issue. Talking about the issue. Calling it out when you see or hear something that is wrong. If you are in your office or at a community function and hear inappropriate comments made against women (or anyone for that matter), you need to speak up about it. Call out comments which perpetuate the wrong attitude toward women and which eventually lead to inappropriate behaviour. I recall last year how I was using the StairMaster at gym and a guy came over to me and asked me why I was using a “girls’ machine”. He said I should rather be doing some “real man stuff”!
I called him out on it and he was genuinely surprised that I had done so. Later that day I posted about it on social media and it was amazing to see the positive comments from many of my male friends supporting what I had done. It was very encouraging.
Other strategies include the requirement to take seriously the reporting of behaviours described in the survey and for action to be taken to ensure they do not occur again. Longer term strategies, but those which will hopefully create a healthier culture and attitude, is the education of our children. This is to educate them both on the home and school fronts that these types of behaviours are completely unacceptable. Changing the often warped culture and perception of what it means to be a man and a woman. The wider population continues to struggle with domestic violence and many of the symptoms and problems that lead to domestic violence are also relevant to the results that have been reported in The AJN.
I believe last year’s special edition had a very positive impact on the community. The wheels are certainly in motion. Is there still room for improvement? Yes, certainly still much room. In fact, 83 per cent of the respondents of the survey believe more can be done to address the issue.
My sincere hope is that this current feature will also spark much needed change. As I said above, it will require a community effort. Each of us can play a part. For now, the mess has been brought out from under the rug into the open. Let’s not sweep it back under!”