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New survey shows women and LGBTQ+ employees harassed in Jewish organisations

Deborah Stone
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DEBORAH STONE: 10% of women and 20% of LGBTQ+ employees in NSW Jewish organisations say they have been harassed at work. Even more have experienced discrimination. The Social Justice Summit will address the problems.

One in 10 women and one in five LGBTQ+ people who work in NSW Jewish community organisations have reported experiencing some form of gender-based harassment in their organisation.

And almost one in five women and almost a third of LGBTQ+ said gender-based discrimination had impacted their work or career.

These are some of the key findings from a survey, Leading the Change to Gender Equity in Jewish Leadership, commissioned for the Social Justice Summit 2022 , which will be held on August 28 at Emanuel Synagogue.

The summit will hear full findings from the survey and will include roundtable discussions on how to address the problems that the survey identifies.

The survey revealed that, while a large majority of respondents believe gender equality is valued in their organisations and that gender discrimination and sexual harassment are not tolerated, the actual experience of women and LGBTQ+ people was much more problematic.

Of the 10% of women, and 20% of LGBTQ+ people who reported experiencing some form of gender-based harassment, the most common forms were intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance, sexually suggestive jokes or comments and unwelcome touching, hugging and other physical contact.

Almost one in five women and almost a third of LGBTQ+ said gender-based discrimination had impacted their work or career. Problems included lack of flexible working arrangements being offered, not being listened to and not being offered the same opportunities to advance in their career.

Board members are often oblivious to problems identified by employees or volunteers working in their organisations.

The survey is an abridged version of a survey of Jewish communal organisations in Victoria in 2020-21, which showed bullying and exclusion were common experiences for women and non-binary people.

The Victorian survey included information about the type of organisations and found that progressive and left-wing organisations were just as likely to have problems as those in the conservative or Orthodox spheres, despite stated ideological commitments to equality.

The NSW survey found that female employees are also far less likely than men to report that they received regular pay rises, had access to professional development opportunities or were actively supported to advance their careers.

In particular, long-term employees and those in traditional female, low-status roles reported that they felt frozen out of decision-making. Many felt that working in small, insular, communal organisations made it impossible to ask for change or challenge the status quo.

“I don’t believe I am paid the same as my male colleague at the equivalent time in their career. Career advancement is limited by my gender and has been openly discussed as a problem,” one female employee, aged 55-64 commented.

Another noted: “It is a small workplace and impossible to complain or ask for change without feeling there will be repercussions.”

There were cases where only men were considered for a CEO role or cases where employees were offered and paid for part-time work but were expected to manage a full-time workload and be regularly available for after-hours meetings. 

Survey respondents noted that the problems experienced by community workers are part of a wider social problem.

“I work in a low paid, not respected female dominated industry. There needs to be systematic social change to increase wages and respect towards [my industry] in the wider community which hopefully will flow to my organisation,” one woman commented.

The survey showed board members are often oblivious to problems identified by employees or volunteers working in their organisations. For example, 90% of board members strongly or somewhat agree that people of all sexualities are valued equally in their organisation, but only 69% of employees and 56% of volunteers agree.

Employees were far more likely than either board members or volunteers to have seen or experienced gender-based harassment  and more likely to have day-to-day experiences of work and career advancement in their organisations that were differentiated along gender lines.

While women and LGBTQ+ people were more likely to identify problems, some men also acknowledged the advantages they had due to their gender.

“I think I have worked with people who listened more because I was male,” a male board member aged 18-34 observed.

Another noted: “Men tend to be more vocal at meetings. Need a strong chair to ensure all voices are heard and not the same three men who are so confident in their opinion, and happy to share it at the drop of a hat."

This survey was supported by The Jewish Independent, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Emanuel Synagogue and Shalom, Stand Up, and the Sydney Alliance, who are holding the summit with support from the JCA Social Justice Fund.

To learn more about the survey and participate in efforts to address the problems, sign up for the Social Justice Summit here.

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