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Do women really want to advance in the workforce and, if they do, can they reach high-level professional positions playing by "men's rules?"
That was the core question asked during a special plenary session on Tuesday focusing on professional development and women's advancement in the workplace at the World Council of Jewish Communal Service's Quadrennial Conference, being held this week in Jerusalem.
Sivanie Shiran, director of leadership programs at the New York-based women's empowerment organization Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, discussed whether there was a lack of females in top leadership roles within the organized Jewish world because women had chosen to focus on their families or because they simply did not want to take on such roles as they are currently defined.
"Female professionals make up 70 percent of the Jewish workforce, but the numbers are very low in top leadership positions," said Shiran. She told The Jerusalem Post afterward that the advancement of US women professionally was not dissimilar to the situation in Israel.
While Shiran acknowledged that focusing on the family was an important Jewish value, she said the low figures perhaps had more to do with "invisible social barriers" preventing women from returning to work after childbirth and advancing up the career ladder.
"Its not always the fault of the women," said Shiran. "While no one wants to blame the system, there is gender bias by both men and women in the workplace."
"The professional development of women is not just a concern for women but is an issue that must be addressed by society as a whole," said Tziona Koenig-Yair, executive director of the Israel Women's Network. "There are many different factors that influence how women will develop professionally, whether that be in the workplace or in government, and all of these need to be taken into account."
Koenig-Yair presented the audience of professionals from thousands of Jewish communal service organizations worldwide - including a large number of male delegates - with an in-depth, somewhat grim look at the status of women in the Israeli labor market.
Maxyne Finkelstein, North America CEO for the Jewish Agency, and consultant Laurie Heller, president of Laurie Heller and Associates in Israel, chaired the session. Both encouraged the Jewish world to work on improving the status of women in the professional environment.
"It's not just about advancing women in the workplace," said Shiran in her speech. "It's about creating work environments that are productive. There are less and less people willing to work in Jewish communal organizations and young women today have less patience at not being promoted. This is an issue we have to take seriously."
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