Sisterhood Blog

UJC's Kathy Manning on Gender Imbalance in the Federation System

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Kathy Manning is the first woman to become chair of the board of trustees of United Jewish Communities, the central organization of the 157 Jewish federations around North America, which collectively raised $3 billion last year.

Manning, an immigration attorney from Greensboro, N.C., has been involved as a lay leader with UJC since it was established a decade ago. She started out as a representative of her federation, went on to become treasurer and, most recently, served as head of the search committee that selected a new chief executive officer.

There’s a new article in the current issue of The Forward based on an interview with Manning and the new CEO she brought in, Jerry Silverman.

But what Manning has to say about the issue of women and UJC is here in The Sisterhood.

Men have for its entire 100 year-plus history led the Jewish federation system. Women represent 75 % of the professional staff in Jewish federations, according to the organization Advancing Women Professionals, but rarely seem to break into the ranks of top management, and never has a woman headed a large Jewish federation.

In the interview, Manning was asked how she views the gender disparity and how she plans to address it.

“I hope we’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “I know we have lots of women in the professional ranks moving up. In the lay leadership ranks there are many women and more moving through the ranks.”

The issue informs the way she works. When assembling the UJC CEO search committee, she said, “I made up my mind that it would be totally gender balanced, and it was: 8 men and 8 women.”

The current chair of UJC’s board of trustees — Manning takes over in November — is Joe Kanfer. He’s been “very conscious” of gender balance, she said. “There have been lots of times when Joe has put committees together and paid attention to the fact that he needed a woman” on it.

“I suspect one of the reasons I was made treasurer” — a role in which she served 2004 through 2006 — “was because it brought a little bit of gender balance to the top leadership,” Manning said.

Shifra Bronznick is founder and president of Advancing Women Professionals, an organization whose name clearly reflects its mission. She says that on the lay leadership side, there has been progress for women:

As a result of many gender equity initiatives, women volunteer leaders in the system have moved forward. Kathy Manning is a good example of that and has been involved in these efforts for many years. However on the professional side, there is still a tremendous disparity.

AWP was the first endeavor funded, in 2000, by a now-defunct UJC project called the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy, which was designed to attract some of the venture-capital money flowing into Jewish philanthropy.

In the last few years UJC’s “leadership has back-burnered these issues,” said Bronznick. “Now is a good time to put it on the front of the agenda not only for the sake of women, but mostly for the sake of the system that needs talent.”

Debra can be reached at DNussbaumC@forward.com.


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