Experts are predicting that the gender-based wage gap will not be closed for another 100 years. That dire prediction does not bother me, however, because those experts have not met the social justice forces of Reform Judaism! I know we can and will do much better.
In early October 2023, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (RPEI) held our eighth annual leadership convening. Led by Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch (she/her) and the Women’s Rabbinic Network’s (WRN) Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, RPEI comprises the 17 organizations of the Reform Movement (RM), creating a unified effort to narrow the gender-based wage gap in our Movement.
Sustaining a project like this over many years requires deep persistence. After all, it is easy to get excited about an issue and try a few things to create change. However, committing to the long game takes true vision and a genuine passion for social justice. Recognizing that this inequity exists within our own institutions, leaders of the Reform Movement are completely dedicated to addressing and coordinating efforts to narrow the gap. With every year, the RPEI commitment has only deepened.
At these yearly convenings, we gather to share progress from our individual organizations, report challenges and examine them together to seek solutions, and consult with experts. We create accountability for each other and break down silos to maximize synergy. This year, during our multi-hour convening, we shared some significant progress and learned more about the wage gap. Here is some of what was shared during the day:
- We celebrated Rabbi Hirsch’s first RPEI convening and the beginning of her RPEI co-leadership; we gratefully recognized WRJ Emerita Rabbi Marla J. Feldman’s contributions.
- We previewed the brand new, fully refreshed RPEI website. Living on the WRJ website, the RPEI section is free and open to the public. This website provides vital information about pay equity, explaining the issue and giving expert advice to both employees and employers to narrow the gap.
- We viewed two brand new educational videos created by WRN in partnership with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership (CPLL). These short videos are designed to educate synagogue and Jewish institutional leadership about paid family and medical leave and provide information about funding paid leave. The videos complement the recently updated WRN Family and Medical Leave Policy Standards for the Jewish Community. WRJ’s YES Fund generously funded the creation of the videos and the resource. Watch the videos.
- We heard a report from Nicole Jones, Global Director of Human Resources, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), describing their project to build a standardized system of supervision and evaluation.
- Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), shared findings from the 2022-23 Study of Rabbinic Compensation, highlighting continued progress in narrowing the wage gap and addressing challenges seen in the data. An executive summary can be found here. The complete study with gender data is here. The study is a partnership program undertaken by the CCAR and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), with the assistance of the Reform Pension Board (RPB).
- We were virtually visited by members of the SRE Network leadership team: Shaina Wasserman, Director of Strategic Operations; Andrea Deck, Senior Program Officer; and Julian Felvinci, Operations Assistant. They shared their new strategic plan and spoke about the importance of the RPEI to the greater Jewish community. SRE is a generous funder to WRN and therefore enriches the pay equity work.
- Our featured speaker was Fran Sepler of Sepler & Associates. An internationally recognized expert on ethical and fair workplaces, Fran taught us about equitable supervision and evaluation, pointing to its role in closing the wage gap. Her breadth and depth of information was inspirational.
As you can see, the day was filled with important sharing and learning. Each leader brought an open heart and mind, committed to this process of learning, creating interventions to narrow the gap, sharing resources, reporting progress and challenges, and sparking synergy.
Part of the RPEI mindset is that we are all responsible for the wage gap and we each have a part in solving this inequity. As stakeholders in the Reform Movement, we are employees and employers; we are clergy and Jewish professionals. No matter our role in the Reform Movement or our individual identities, we have the power to narrow the gap and ensure that our highest values of egalitarianism and social justice are reflected in employment practices throughout our Movement. And it is not going to take 100 years. Certainly not on our watch.