Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Barnard commencement address has become one of the most popular of the season. It has been linked to a quoted all over the Internet; the Forward excerpted it and so, too, did The New York Times. And right on.
Sandberg gave a no-nonsense, no apologies plea for feminine ambition. She reminded the class of 2011 that despite gains in education — she said that women have been 50% of college graduates since 1981 — men still run the world:
Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.
Sandberg’s two main pieces of advice to remedy gender inequality are for women to “think big” and believe in themselves, and to not prematurely curtail our ambitions because of the work/life choices we might have to make down the line when we have children.
If you have a career, being a mother in this country costs you — in promotions and salary, and, because of a near total lack of legally mandated parental leave, in physical and emotional health as well. This is a well-known reality for every working mom I know, and now the international NGO Human Rights Watch has published a comprehensive look at the breadth and depth of the problem, and notes that it also has a negative impact on the economy.
The report, titled “Failing Its Families,” which can be read in its entirety here, says that the U.S. is one of just three countries in the world — alongside Papua New Guinea and Swaziland — that lack paid maternity leave.
The report continues:
The parents interviewed for this report recounted serious harms related to the meager policy supports for US working families. They described struggling with the lack of paid leave, and reported negative effects on their careers, on family finances, or on their children’s health. Many also confronted inflexible workplaces after leave, including with respect to requests for flexible hours or reduced schedules, and concerning pumping breast milk at work.
Last year, the non-profit organization Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community set out to improve work-life polices, such as paid parental leave, job-sharing and formalized flex time, at 100 Jewish organizations. AWP’s founding president, Shifra Bronznick, recently spoke with The Sisterhood about the progress made as the result of AWP’s Better Work Life Campaign, and what remains to be done.
More than a year into the campaign, how close are you to meeting your goal?
We are 40% of the way there. A number of organizations are working on major improvements to their policies — even reaching to our “gold standards.” Others are “works in progress” and are grappling with work-life issues, but are not yet ready to ratify new policies. We think that this is all fairly amazing given the challenging economic environment. Even if it takes us an additional year to reach our goal of l00, that is a relatively short time to have moved organizational support for life-work issues from the margins to the mainstream.
How do you measure “improvement” on the work-life front?
Until recently, only women in Israel received automatic parental leave following childbirth. The husband, while entitled by law to up to 6 weeks of leave, could only take off from work once the mother returned to work, and only after a period of six weeks from the birth date. But this may be about to change. According to a bill introduced by Kadima MK Robert Tiviaev, new fathers will be entitled to a seven day leave with pay, starting on the day that a new baby is born.
Tivaiaev explained that the bill comes from request from testimony of many men who appeared at the Knesset committee meetings on the subject, testimony which he believes is confirmed by research collected on paternity leave practices around the world.
The Sisterhood Digest:
A group of Israeli women recently smuggled 12 Palestinian women and four children into Israel for a day of leisure. The women dined out in Jaffa and swam in the Mediterranean before the Palestinian women returned to the West Bank via Jerusalem. Among the excursion organizers was the Israeli writer Ilana Hammerman, who earlier this year wrote a magazine piece about another such gathering.
Barbara J. Zakheim, founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse of Greater Washington is undertaking what is believed to be the first national survey of agunot, or women who, unable to obtain a Jewish divorce document, are stuck in unwanted marriages.
Haaretz introduces readers to Israeli psychologist Edna Foa — a pioneer of “Prolonged Exposure Therapy.” The technique is being used by the U.S. military on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Jewish community rightly holds its leaders responsible for managing complex organizational tasks. Yet when it comes to creating workplaces that routinely hire, advance and retain women in positions of authority and visibility, many leaders throw up their hands. So here’s a thought: Let’s all of us, leaders and constituents, stop acting like the advancement of women in Jewish communal life is impossibly complicated. If communal leaders follow these three easy steps, and all of the rest of us hold them accountable to committing themselves to concrete change, we will together improve Jewish organizations for women — and for men.
1. Leaders Should Conduct Internal Salary Audits
A 2004 study by Professor Steven M. Cohen and Judith Schor for the Rabbinical Assembly found that female rabbis earn $10,000 to $21,000 less than their male colleagues, even controlling for the size of congregation, the years of experience of the rabbi, and the hours worked per week. And a recent study, done by the Forward, found that female executives at Jewish organizations earn $0.61 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. The lay and professional leaders of such organizations would be well advised to follow the lead of the Rabbinical Assembly:Conduct a comprehensive salary audit within your organization. Then publicize, rather than obfuscate, the result, and and begin to remedy any inequities uncovered. This might not be a particularly pleasant organizational exercise, but think about it this way: Do you really want to be the executive director or board chair who routinely underpays your female employees?
Okay, I’m jumping back in the ring. When I wrote recently about feeling like a bad feminist for wanting to stay home with my newborn daughter, I didn’t expect quite the response I got. Elana, while I do take issue with some of what you have to say, you’re spot on that women should stop asking for permission. In my post, I was seeking approval — mostly my mother’s, who granted it (thank you, Sisterhood, for letting us work out our mother-daughter issues). And while I understand your point that men and women need to share the parenting load, I don’t think anybody — man or woman — will be free to be parents until we have some real societal change.
I spent the past year living in Germany where parents (note: parents, not mothers) are offered 14 months of paid leave to care for their children. The policy was actually created to encourage fathers to take time off. If only the mother stays home she is offered a mere year. There are even father centers — havens where men can go hang out with their babies and chat with other men about soccer, parenting, and other dad things.