Explore the link between equity and effectiveness 

At AWP, we learned about the link between equity and effectiveness from our colleagues Lotte Bailyn at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and Joyce K. Fletcher at the Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons College. Their scholarship demonstrates that, when you find out what holds women back, you also learn what holds everyone back from high performance.

We began our research in 2003 by diagnosing federations – the Jewish community’s largest employer. Our goal was to identify the factors affecting women’s advancement in this national system of 2,500 professionals, with hundreds of Board members and fundraising of nearly one billion dollars annually.

Uncovering gender bias in the Jewish community

Our study, Gender Equity and Organizational Effectiveness in the Federation System (2003), showed why there were no female CEOs at large city federations, even with women accounting for 80% of the federation workforce.

The obstacles started with the double-bind of leadership styles. Women were seen as “not tough enough,” unless they were seen as “too tough and abrasive.” Professional and volunteer leaders questioned whether women could solicit major gifts, despite successful campaign directors in their ranks and the outstanding track record of women in other fields, including presidents of Ivy League universities. The pipeline was blocked by weak professional development, the influence of the “old boys’ club,” and antiquated work-life policy.

Do women really want top jobs?

Acknowledging bias was a critical first step. Through discussions with hundreds of federation volunteers and professionals, we collected many good ideas to move in a more positive direction. But resistance ran deep. We heard the constant refrain, “Do women really want these top jobs?”

Our second federation study, Cultivating the Talent: Women Professionals in the Federation System (2006), showed that women do want top jobs – when they have equal opportunity for career development, a fair executive search process, and work-life policies that recognize their greater share of caregiving and household responsibility. We offered three recommendations: public support for women’s aspirations, sequenced career planning, and policies for workplace flexibility.

Small cracks in the glass ceiling

AWP’s research partnership with JFNA changed the way professionals were recruited and selected for high-level leadership programs and eventually led to model policies for formal flexibility and paid parental leave. The glass ceiling cracked – twice – with the appointment of Jennifer Gorovitz to lead the San Francisco federation in 2010 and Deborah Corber to lead the Montreal federation in 2011.

Research can catalyze change. It also reveals the inflexibility of some systems. The leadership gender gap persists at many veteran Jewish organizations – from the federations to ADL, AIPAC, and AJC. While we continue to push for change, AWP has broadened its focus to innovative start-ups, social justice organizations, social service agencies, foundations, schools, publications, and new spiritual communities.

24/7: Time to change the way we work

Having identified work-life policy as a major stumbling block, AWP surveyed 200 Jewish organizations about formal flexibility and paid parental leave. In 2009, we released “Better Work, Better Life,” a report showing the Jewish community far behind the curve on both policies. This research launched AWP’s Better Work, Better Life Campaign, to enlist 100 organizations in adopting paid parental leave and formal flexible work arrangements.

Research fuels change

To catalyze deep change, we need a common fact base. What did we learn? How do these findings match our assumptions? What surprised us? Revealing the gap between assumptions and reality starts an important conversation. With objective data in hand, organizational teams and leaders can begin to experiment with new behaviors, structures, and policies.

Dig into the facts and look for patterns. Let us help you get started on your research.