Women’s Leadership to the Fore with Project Deborah – And The Holidays…
By Jackie King:
In August 2012 I was fortunate to be included in a leadership program facilitated by Australian Jewish Funders and ROI/The Charles and Lynne Schusterman Foundation. At the end of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to apply for a grant to fund a program that they thought was needed in the community.
Given my background in research, evaluation and governance, I wrote a proposal for a training program on governance for mainstream Jewish Community organisations. I felt that there was an absence of high level governance skills in the community, particularly amongst the more grass roots organisations that were very active and successful with their programming, but not necessarily aware of the regulatory context in which they operated.
I was surprised, to say the least, when I discovered that I had been awarded a grant. The challenge was then 2 fold- how to make governance attractive, and how to attract further funding and an auspice to allow me to operate a full funded pilot program with the proper tax deductability status.
It took a long time for me to sort these threshold issues. Already interested in the policy discourse about quotas and diversity on Boards, I felt that the program might be best directed at women rather than the general community. It is women who face the structural and unconscious barriers to attaining Board positions and attending Board meetings. While a preliminary survey of Melbourne Jewish communal organisations by Project Deborah show that women’s involvement at the Board level is around 48%, the ages of the women involved suggest that there is a whole pool of talented and productive women who are not being engaged or utilised by the community for its future betterment. Despite this figure, it should be noted that women are barely present at the top of the federal hierarchy of national organisations. Further, research shows that women who have mentors and support networks perform better in both their personal and professional lives. Such programs do not exist in the Community.
With a strong Advisory Board of exemplary women, we set about designing a course that was wholistic in its approach, and would touch on the many issues that face women as they struggle fulfil their own ambitions in finding the balance between work, community, family. Project Deborah is really a result of our own experiences as professionals who are trying to combine fulfilling professional ambition and family responsibilities. Thus the Project is responding to a number of needs:
- The need for women to have access to tools and networks to increase their confidence and skills in fulfilling their own potential, including mentoring.
- The need for increasing the organisational capacity of Jewish communal organisation via the increased engagement and retention of women
- The need for the lessons and findings relating to this demographic to be presented to the community to be factored into their future strategic planning
Ultimately, we hope that the pilot project will be successful, and that we can ensure future funding to make it a financially sustainable model. We would like to make it scalable and replicable to different ethnic groups, women of different socio-economic status, including unemployed, disadvantaged and refugee women, as well as women exiting custody. I have learnt that my own journey very much reflects the universal experiences of women trying to better themselves and the communities they live in.
Project Deborah: Jewish Women’s Initiative is open for registrations. Please see www.projectdeborah.org for further information.
Galus will take a break over the New Year, unless a major story arises. We look forward to seeing you in 2014.