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Project Deborah Launched

February 21, 2014 – 9:07 amNo Comment

By Jackie King:

women leadership2Over 170 guests attended the launch of Project Deborah on 4th of February to hear keynote speaker, Catherine Fox debunk myths relating to women and work.

Catherine claimed that Australia needs to reframe the way we look at technical and managerial skills to realise that talent could be anywhere, regardless of gender, race, culture, religion. She discussed the subjectivity of the notion of merit and the absence of a level playing field as a result of unconscious biases. She explained that Project Deborah was an important platform because it gave women a voice, and all the evidence shows that the most significant factor in encouraging women to step forward is the visibility of other women. She said that programs like Project Deborah encouraged women to be role models for other women and to partake in what has traditionally been a male dominated decision making process.

For Catherine, Project Deborah is important because it related to society in the future, it is about embracing the 51% of the population, but acknowledging that men also need to be included in this process and acknowledged that the appetite for a program such as this was evident with the much larger than expected audience in attendance.

Project Deborah Founder and CEO, Jackie King discussed some preliminary research undertaken by Project Deborah in relation to the Melbourne Jewish Community. Little has been written about the role of women in the Jewish community in a broad sense. Specific histories of various women’s organisation, or biographies of prominent, influential women have been completed, but a survey of the role and functions of women in the organisations of the Melbourne Jewish community has not been undertaken. There is little academic research on the experience of female communal leaders, on their proportions or contributions.

A recent baseline survey of 29 Melbourne communal organisations, by Project Deborah, including synagogues and schools that range the political and religious spectrum indicate some interesting results. Women-based organisations were excluded from the analysis, which was also limited by publicly available information.

The figures show that approximately 33% of all board members were women. Approximately 40% of all board chairs are constituted by women, and approximately 48% Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors or Principals are women.

Of those organisations surveyed, however, there was a clear gap in the involvement of women under 55 years of age. Anecdotally, it seems that the potential contribution by professional women under 55 years old, either at home or working has remained largely untapped by the community for its own future benefit.

Until Project Deborah, there has been an absence of programs or support for women of this demographic to fulfill their potential in a communal setting. This is in contrast to development overseas:

In the UK, the Jewish Leadership Commission on Women in Jewish leadership identified key areas for change, which fall mainly into two categories: “supporting women with relevant skills to take up leadership roles in the community and secondly, working with our communal organisations to ensure they have policies and practices in relation to professional development and governance which are transparent and inclusive”.

In the US, a not for profit organisation called Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, found that “not all high potential women want the leadership positions as currently defined, but they aspire to redefine the job and in doing so re-envision the culture of life and work in Jewish organisations”. The same is true of Project Deborah.

Moving forward, the Project will measure its impact on the participants undertaking the program individually, as a group and on the communal landscape in terms of networks, mentoring and board positions.

The Launch was complemented by fantastic performances by Josh Piterman, Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier, and Anita Lester.

For more information about Project Deborah please visit www.projectdeborah.org or contact info@projectdeborah.org.

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