The World Jewish Congress hosted a parallel event to the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for an event entitled Empowering Women: Corporate policies and practices inspiring Faith-Based Organizations to explore ways leaders can create a more inclusive and equitable work-culture to combat gender discrimination.
Yohan Benizri, President of the WJC-affiliated Coordination Committee of the Jewish Organizations of Belgium and a member of the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps, opened the event noting the symbolic irony of having a male Jewish leader moderate a discussion about empowering woman.
Michelle Penelope King, CEO of Equality Forward, an organization that provides leaders with coaching to build cultures of equality at work, opened her remarks encouraging critical thought on the topic, saying, “we assume that common practice is best practice, which it’s not.” She added that it’s “not enough to just hire women into an organization, we need to value the strengths and capabilities and diversity women bring into the organization.”
Adding to King’s point, Professor David G. Smith of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School pointed out that for the fight for gender equality to be successful, everyone needs to be involved, noting this isn't only a “women’s issue or gender equality issues, but a leadership issue.”
Vicky Chehebar, Commissioner for Gender Equality for WJC’s regional affiliate, the Latin American Jewish Congress, outlined her frustrations with having “doors slammed in her face” simply due to her gender and her exhaustion of answering questions about why women deserve to have a seat at the table.
King addressed the importance of male allyship and being conscious of the terms used to discuss the issue of gender inequality. Specifically, it’s misleading to say women need the help of men to tackle the subject, King said, but rather she advises women to say, “I need you to solve the inequality that you have created.” King then continued to mention how diverse and equitable workplaces are conducive to success, especially when learning and understanding how different identities experience their office or other place of business. In response to King, Benizri replied that the requisite for “being an ally means you need to understand why you want to be an ally.”
Chehebar reflected about her experience working to combat discrimination against religious groups and women as well as the language used to address these topics in Colombia. She noted that when people speak about religious discrimination, the language used is more forceful and urgent than when people speak about discrimination against women, which is usually met with a more patient and calmer response. Explaining the discrepancy, she added that “the people making these decisions are men, and for them, it’s not so urgent when you discriminate against women because they are not feeling it.”
The discussion then shifted to the many ways faith-based organizations can approach gender inequality in a practical manner. Chehebar explained that organizations need to learn to be more flexible and adaptable to change. King added that organizations need to look internally at the problem they are looking to solve and how to create an environment that values diversity. Smith followed by adding that accountability is key to creating an equitable workplace.
Sonat Birnecker Hart, Chair of WJC’s Jewish Diplomatic Corps, concluded the discussion noting that it is importance of such conversations as well as need to celebrate our differences and create spaces where these “differences are enlarged and not diminished.” Hart closed by reiterating that gender inequality is a “problem that we all need to address together. Because in not addressing it, it certainly hurts us all.”