Lisa Eisen — founder of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition, a Jewish response to the #MeToo movement — speaks at the Jewish Funders Network in San Francisco, March 2019. (Photo/Stuart Locklear Photography)
Lisa Eisen — founder of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition, a Jewish response to the #MeToo movement — speaks at the Jewish Funders Network in San Francisco, March 2019. (Photo/Stuart Locklear Photography)

New push for gender equity in Jewish workplaces

Concerned about attracting the next generation to jobs in the Jewish community? Then you’d better make sure those workplaces provide safe, respectful environments where women receive equal pay and are equally represented in top leadership.

That was the message Lisa Eisen brought to the Jewish Funders Network conference this week in San Francisco, almost a year to the day since she founded the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition, a Jewish response to the #MeToo movement.

“It’s crucial that talented people will want to work and volunteer in our communities,” she told the opening-day crowd of some 600, most of them representing Jewish funders of Jewish organizations in the U.S. and Israel.

Eisen, who directs Jewish and Israel grantmaking as president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s U.S. Jewish Portfolio, has for years led initiatives to advance women’s rights and empower women and girls around the world.

Now she and her colleagues are addressing those same concerns within the Jewish community, looking to promote women’s leadership and end sexual harassment and gender discrimination in Jewish workplaces. More than 100 Jewish organizations have signed on in the coalition’s first year, committing to adopting its “code of conduct,” a list of policies and practices aimed at creating safe, respectful Jewish spaces.

“We are looking for culture change across the Jewish community, because our community is subject to the same abuses and power relationships as others,” Eisen said in a workshop later in the day. “We all need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to treat each other according to Jewish values? What do we need to change to make sure we do that?”

As major funders of Jewish institutions and initiatives, she told the conference attendees, they have a special responsibility because of the “power relationships inherent in funding.” One of the coalition’s key recommendations is that grantmakers not only change how they do business internally, but demand the same of their grantees.

Rachel Garber Monroe, president and CEO of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, said that its grant application now asks potential grantees about gender balance on their board of directors, and whether they have “a safe and equitable workplace.”

Our community is subject to the same abuses and power relationships as others.

“That’s something we can do right now to make a difference,” she said, noting that tying funding to compliance is a powerful tool she and other funders can use.

Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation, said the foundation is working hard to adopt the coalition’s standards in its own workplace.

“We’re not going to ask [grantees] to do anything we’re not doing ourselves,” he said, adding that over the past few months the foundation has reviewed its hiring policies, leadership balance, pay structure and many other practices.

“It’s daunting,” he said. “Do we have the right policies? Do people understand them? How do we communicate it to staff?

“It’s not about checking off the boxes,” he said. “We need to embed this in the DNA of the foundation.”

Finestone was one of just a few men in the room for Eisen’s workshop.

“None of this can happen without the commitment of top leadership,” she told the group.

Rebecca Goldman agreed. The CEO of Time’s Up, a coalition of women in the entertainment industry that emerged in 2017 in response to the Harvey Weinstein harassment and sexual abuse case, she spoke about the unique contribution the Jewish community can make.

“I’d like the Jewish community’s help in what redemption might look like,” she said. When a man has been unjustly accused of harassment or abuse, how can his reputation be salvaged? And when a man is rightly accused, how should he apologize, to whom, and what restitution should he make?

“I can think of no better community to help society at large think about forgiveness and redemption — and write about it,” she said.

As more and more cases of harassment and abuse come forward, and continue to attract media coverage, there has been a commensurate increase in efforts to address the problem. Eisen said that’s true in the Jewish communal world as well.

“In just a year we’ve seen change,” she said. “Jewish organizations and their boards are discussing it. New systems are being put in place. Funding is increasing. Victims’ voices are being centered.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at sue@jweekly.com.