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The Jewish Community’s $20,000 Gender Gap

The Jewish Community’s $20,000 Gender Gap

Study of communal professionals finds women trailing men, even as they make up 70 percent of the field.

What is the cost, in dollar terms, of being a woman employed in a Jewish communal organization? $20,000. Annually.

That was perhaps the most talked-about finding from a recent survey of Jewish Communal Professionals in North America, which was commissioned by the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America (JCSA) and conducted by Steven M. Cohen of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner.

“I’ve done five to six studies that all point in the same direction,” remarked Cohen during a Webinar on Tuesday organized by JCSA. “There really is an unfortunate and discouraging gender gap in salaries.”

The $20,000 figure controls for age, education, seniority and other factors, other than gender, that may otherwise come into play.

The idea that there exists a gender gap in salaries is not news to anyone working in the Jewish communal field. (A 1999 survey of JCSA’s membership found that almost 23 percent of men were earning over $120,000, compared to only 4 percent of women.) However, the extent to which the pay gap persists, particularly in a profession dominated by women, continues to confound many.

“Some of the younger women were thrown by this,” Brenda Gevertz, executive director of the JCSA, told The Jewish Week. “This is a post-feminist generation. They assume they’re going to be able to make the same contributions and do just as well as their male counterparts.”

Gevertz — who is only the second woman to hold the top professional position at the JCSA in its 100-plus years — recalled taking a job several years back and later discovering that a male colleague had been offered $25,000 more for the same job. She calculates that over the course of her career, she has made a $1 million contribution to the Jewish community in the form of lowered salary.

Describing the pay gap as a “contribution” may be a nice way of putting it, but it still rankles. “It absolutely bothers me,” Gevertz says. “That’s a lifestyle difference; it means not having to take out loans to send your children to college.”

Of the 2,435 respondents to the opt-in e-mail survey, the median age was 48, two-thirds were married (and 89 percent of those who were married were married to Jews), and the median income was $78,000. Though salaries differ based on location and the size of the organization, on average, professionals in entry-level positions earn $45,000; managers earn $75,000 and CEOs earn $125,000.

Having this data can serve as a “very valuable negotiation tool,” says Gevertz. The JCSA survey has sparked conversation around the pay gap and could even land female communal professionals a raise. In fact, after reading through the study’s findings, one organization’s board gave its female executive director a raise.

Still, the Jewish community needs to do more than address the pay gap in Jewish communal life; it also needs to restructure work responsibilities to meet the needs and lifestyles of the next generation.

“It’s not so much a work-life balance, but a work-life blend,” remarked Lisa Colton, president of Darim Online, in response to the survey data. The Jewish community has to be much more responsive in meeting the needs of women, in particular, and “millenials” in general, she says. This doesn’t mean working fewer hours, but rather getting the work done differently. Colton, for example, is happy to answer e-mails late at night, but wants to be able to attend her child’s school play without any sense of guilt.

This comes as a time when one of the key challenges the Jewish communal world faces is high turnover among its entry-level staff, particularly young women.

The survey also found that Jewish communal professionals disproportionately come from stronger-than-average Jewish homes and educational programs. Nearly 25 percent attended Jewish day school, two-thirds attended Jewish camp and most participated in a Hillel-like experience at college. A vast majority (62 percent) took a college-level Jewish studies course, more than twice the average among a cross-section of the Jewish people.

The Israel experience is particularly predominant among Jewish communal professionals. More than 90 percent of respondents have been to Israel at least once, and nearly 40 percent have spent at least four months studying or working in Israel.

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