Why the JCC movement Is putting talent and culture at the fore

We read with great interest the Leading Edge report The Gender Gap in Jewish Nonprofit Leadership: An Ecosystem View.” Although the narrative indicates that progress has been made in closing the gender gap, it also recognizes that far more action is needed on both the local and continental levels. That observation mirrors the experience at the JCCs of North America, which, prior to the pandemic, employed roughly 37,000 full- and part-time staff, not including approximately 17,000 seasonal staff. This figure represents the largest pool of professionals in the Jewish communal network, making the JCCs of North America ideally suited to address the leadership gender gap and alter the landscape of the field for generations to come. 

At the same time, the breadth and scope of the JCC Movement and its inherently local focus makes the path forward daunting, requiring us to be resolute, consistent and intentional in our practices, as well as develop a platform to educate our professionals around these issues. Nonetheless, we were drawn to two specific keystones of the report in which meaningful advances can be realized even within the complexity and scope of our movement: 

1.      Lack of a talent strategy to promote diversity, equity and inclusion

2.      Insufficient advocacy from men in top leadership

Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion cannot stand on its own; it must be embedded in a larger talent strategy. In a field in which females represent 70% of our workforce and only 30% of CEOs, engaging in this work is critical to our success in closing the gap. JCC Association of North America is committed to developing and adopting a comprehensive talent strategy for the JCC workforce of today and tomorrow. What’s more, given the breadth and depth of professionals in JCCs and the reality that early career employment opportunities at JCCs are a path to other Jewish professional roles, ultimately such a strategy will have a positive effect on the broader Jewish communal landscape. 

Authored less than two years ago, JCC Association’s Talent White Paper offers strategies to recruit, nurture, develop and retain a robust workforce to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow’s JCCs. Although the pandemic delayed the public dissemination of the document, its key findings have been circulating through the movement —with growing activity around one of the paper’s crucial tenets: to put talent and culture at the forefront of our movement and “embrace cultural norms around safe, respectful, equitable, diverse and inclusive workplaces and opportunities for advancement.” 

This statement also forms the foundation of the Association’s talent strategy, which focuses on developing JCC professionals’ Jewish and Israel literacy, as well as their commitment to engaging fully inclusive communities, and culture building. With at least one-third of Jewish communal CEOs promoted from within, allegiance to these elements will be critical as we build a talent pipeline of professionals and formalize career lattices to close the gender gap more quickly, especially in the C-suite. In turn, the more integrated and inclusive our C-suite teams, the broader our opportunities to bridge the divide and close the gap at all levels within the JCC Movement.

As this cultural shift requires building momentum over time, there is much we can do right now to cultivate the allyship and actions of the men who occupy 70% of the top leadership positions, including continuing efforts that have, in the recent past, shown progress enabled by current leaders. For example, the wage gap between male and female JCC executives identified in a 2017 JCC salary study has, based on 2021 data by JCC size, all but been eliminated, and we have evidence, too, of improved gender distribution on search committees for new CEOs. JCC Association has committed to ensuring gender diversity on panels and other public forums and greater gender balance among JCC executives on our board of directors. Although we still have a long way to go, we are proud of these explicit actions that help moderate implicit biases that traditionally have challenged our field.

In Nedarim (literally “vows;” a tractate of Talmud that deals with the binding value of spoken vows) 49b, Rabbi Yehudah says, “Great is work as it gives honor to the one who does it.” In spite of the countless challenges and uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, the JCC movement has served its communities with distinction and purpose throughout, receiving acclaim along the way. As we continue to build on the remarkable experiences gleaned by our movement throughout this period, we must dedicate ourselves to doing so in a more inclusive, professional environment across our field. We commit to strengthening our resolve and intensifying our efforts to create a more equitable future for all members of our workforce.

Sue Gelsey is chief program and talent officer at JCC Association of North America. Brian Schreiber is president & CEO, JCC of the Greater Pittsburgh, and special advisor to JCC Association of North America.

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