gender equality Social Justice

Creating Workplace Equity that Reflects Jewish Values

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, reflects on ethical employment practices and offers a variety of resources to help Jewish workplaces achieve these standards.

In the Jewish community, many frequently describe our places of employment as having cultures like family. However, if we really want to honor the dedicated people who serve as the backbones of our institutions, we must develop the most professional and equitable employment policies and procedures possible. We must ensure equitable hiring, supervision, and promotion; we must create safe, respectful communities. This will honor not only our employees, but also our volunteers, members, and participants. In this manner, we will create cultures in which all can flourish.

For secular employees in the United States, the gender-based wage gap persists. According to a Pew Research Center report, it has barely narrowed in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men; this ratio has remained almost the same since 2002, when women earned 80 cents to the dollar. The gap is much wider for women of color. For example, in 2022, Black women earned 70 percent as much as White men, and Hispanic women earned only 65 percent.

Unfortunately, the wage gap also persists in Reform Jewish congregations. The Reform Pay Equity Initiative (RPEI), a project of the seventeen organizations of the Reform Movement and led by Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) and Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), gathers data from the five professional organizations of the Reform Movement. This aggregation reveals a gender-based wage gap consistent with secular data.

Professional and lay leaders in each Jewish workplace should examine the RPEI data in order to ascertain if their female-identified employees, as well as those of other protected identity groups, are treated fairly and equitably. The question is not just “do we pay our employees fairly?” but “how do we know for sure that we are creating equity in our workplaces and thus living up to our Jewish values?” This drive for equity also requires that hiring, supervision, and promotion are conducted in the most professional manner and result in unbiased employment practices.

To ensure equity in our Jewish workplaces, we must guarantee that all employees have access to paid family and medical leave. With federal laws failing to provide paid leave, the secular American workplace is an outlier among developing and developed countries. Although the situation is improving at the state level, religious institutions are exempt from these laws. Therefore, the moral imperative is on Jewish leaders to provide clearly communicated, robust paid leave for people of all genders who are growing their families or whose loved ones are experiencing medical challenges. WRN’s paid family leave resource provides accessible information and model language for employment contracts and employee handbooks. This free resource explains that every employee should receive twelve weeks of paid leave.

Finally, our congregations and institutions must be safe, harassment-free, respectful communities for employees and all who interact with these organizations in any capacity. Every congregation and institution should have an ethics policy, which is constantly broadcast to all who gather either virtually or in person. In addition, staff and board members must be trained in the procedures that support the policies. Admittedly, upholding good-quality ethics policies can be difficult. It may require standing up to individuals who otherwise are valued in our communities and letting them know that their harmful behavior will not be tolerated. It may even mean asking these productive perpetrators to leave our communities.[i] It is vital that boards and leaders plan and practice procedures and are prepared to act. The Union for Reform Judaism has a complete resource, as well as professionals and lay leaders, to help congregations study and write an ethics code. Sacred Spaces, an organization dedicated to preventing institutional abuse in the Jewish community, has created Keilim, an online, self-guided policy toolkit. In addition, the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ “The Clergy Monologues” and ARJE’s “The Educator Monologues,” with accompanying study guides (Clergy and Educator), are conversation-starting tools to reflect on gender bias in Jewish spaces.

When we describe our Jewish workplaces as “like family,” we unwittingly send the message that our synagogues and institutions do not need to uphold the highest professional standards for ethical employment as informed by our Jewish values and secular laws. As Reform Jews, we can apply our communal passion for egalitarianism and social justice to safeguard every Reform Movement employee and ensure their access to safe, harassment-free, respectful workplaces. Dedicating ourselves to this goal is the greatest way to honor and celebrate our workers this Labor Day.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. She is the editor of The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic and The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic, both published by CCAR Press.

[i] Productive perpetrators are professional or lay people who contribute to our communities through time, talent, money, knowledge, or social capital. Yet they harm others through bullying or harassment. See Harassment-Free Jewish Spaces: Our Leaders Must Answer to a Higher Standard (RavBlog).

gender equality

The Reform Pay Equity Initiative: Copy Us, Please

On this Equal Pay Day it is important to note that the gender-based pay gap is a #metoo issue, meaning the societal norms which deny women physical and psychological safety also lead to women being underpaid. The wage gap is the financial dimension of gender harassment. And, unfortunately, no community is immune from misogyny or pay inequity. Not even the Reform Movement with its foundational principles of gender equality and social justice. While our Movement has vocally advocated for equality in the national workplace for decades upon decades, we have not turned that critical eye on ourselves. Now, finally, a Movement-wide partnership to address the wage gap directly is making important progress, while creating a model and resources for all.

In its third year, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (The beginning of RPEI’s work is documented here.) continues its comprehensive approach to the wage gap within the Reform Movement, striving to influence the employment practices of 900+ congregations and over 1.8 million Reform Jews. This partnership of the seventeen organizations under the Reform Movement umbrella supports the female Jewish professionals of the Movement, while at the same time it provides resources and trainings for our institutions and congregations to ensure unbiased hiring and contract negotiations. In addition, the resources and learning shared by this Initiative are open to everyone, not only one type of Jewish professional and not exclusively the members of the Reform Movement. RPEI is fueled by generous funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and women’s rights activist Audrey Cappell.

Foremost, RPEI has educated the leaders of our organizations concerning the complexities of the pay gap and how it manifests itself in our Movement. In turn, each has openly shared the work of the separate entities, creating synergy in our efforts to narrow the wage gap. We have learned how to better collect and analyze the compensation data of our Jewish professionals; we have also recognized the limitations of data collection.

RPEI has sought ways to maximize transparency, which is a powerful tool against the wage gap. We have encouraged colleagues to share compensation data with each other and to better utilize the salary studies and surveys provided by their professional organizations. But most importantly, the placement commissions of these professional organizations are in the process of requiring or strongly recommending synagogues participating in the placement process list a proposed salary range, instead of leaving the information blank or saying, “commensurate with experience.” The Joint Commission on Rabbinic Placement (URJ and Central Conference of American Rabbis) has already made this mandatory, while the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) educates synagogues on Pay Equity issues, asking them to list a salary range. The ACC has not moved to a mandatory model due to the wide breadth of years of experience individuals bring to cantorial positions.

We have invested in educating professionals and lay leaders, speaking at Reform Movement gatherings: major organizations’ board meetings, social action forums, numerous conferences, and at our Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. RPEI has engaged experts to teach negotiation skills for women and Jewish ethical employment in many of these forums. We have urged our Jewish professionals to be active partners by educating their congregations by using their different expert educational modes: teaching, preaching, writing, singing about the wage gap, especially around Equal Pay Day. Many women have sought help navigating their personal wage gap; Reform congregations have reviewed their compensation structures. In addition, non-Reform Movement organizations, Jewish professional groups, and seminaries have requested input to understand the best practices of documenting and amending pay inequities.

RPEI has created important resources, all outward facing. Filled with information and guidance, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative website is hosted by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) but is accessible to all. There visitors will find topical resource tabs, including on negotiation skills, teaching & preaching, and implicit bias, but more importantly, there are two curated portals, one for employees and another for employers, meaning for both Jewish professionals and lay leaders employment stakeholders. These portals direct the visitor towards the resources customized to their needs.

An important resource create by RPEI and found on its website is The Reform Jewish Quarterly fall 2018 issue. It contains a symposium on Pay Equity with twelve articles exploring the topic. There are study guides, providing instant lessons tailored to adult education, board training, or search/hiring committee training. The CCAR has generously made these articles and study guides open to the public without the usual fee.

In the coming months there will be an in-depth ‘negotiation skills for women’ tool and an implicit bias training for search committees. The website will continue to evolve to provide the best educational materials, interventions, and training materials for employees and employers. The seventeen organizations of RPEI will further educate our Movement and imbed Jewish ethical employment practices into every stage of hiring and employment.

The members of the Reform Pay Equity Initiative invite others, both within the Jewish community and beyond, to make use of our model and resources. Copy us, please.

This blog was originally posted on eJewish Philanthropy.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the Executive Director of Women’s Rabbinic Network.  She co-leads RPEI with Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Zamore is on the steering committee of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition. Her newest anthology is The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic (CCAR Press: 2019).