Are Jewish Women Cheap Labor?

Recently I attended a fundraiser for a Jewish organization. After the speaker I went to get a bite to eat and began speaking with the head of the organization. He began to recount the politics that go on in his office and also told me that there were mainly women in the office, which caused even more tension.

I joked around and said, “When I have my own business, I’m only hiring men. They are just easier to deal with.” He replied, “But women are cheap labor!” I was suddenly taken aback realizing he was being serious. He continued on and told me that “Women are a second income, we can pay them less.”

But the issue at hand is unfortunately not limited to this snide remark. This head of organization is just one of many who abuse their position to subordinate and limit the role of women in the Jewish professional world.

According to the Advancing Women Professionals, a group devoted to promoting leadership of women in Jewish institutions at both local and national levels:

“Women earn less than their male colleagues–a shameful 77 cents for every dollar. This is as true in the nonprofit world as for Fortune 500 companies. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that women CEOs in charities with budgets over $50 million earn 37% less than male CEOs. Research studies in the Jewish world–including federations, synagogues and JCCs–show the same patterns, even after statistically controlling for the status of the position and the qualifications of the professionals.”

But, the recent publication of the book “Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational life” has given me some hope for the future of Jewish women professionals. The book offers strategies for creating gender equity from recruitment to retention and advancement and offers tools and exercises to asses ones current work environment. The book is a call for change-makers and individual action. If the Jewish community cannot uphold a just and moral code of business ethics and equality then it might cause young motivated women to opt out of Jewish communal life and leadership.
I happen to be one of these young motivated Jewish women. I am very active in the New York University Hillel and currently serve on the Orthodox student board. However, I am hesitant to go into Jewish organizational life because although women make up a large part of the Jewish organizational workforce, they only hold a small percentage of leadership positions. Furthermore, when women finally manage to acquire a leadership position they are still paid less.
We must change our attitudes and change the statistics, so that women who are 51% of the Jewish nation can be represented and paid equally.

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