Through the Glass Ceiling: A voyage of self-discovery

Adina Haham finds herself.

adina haham 88 298 (photo credit: )
adina haham 88 298
(photo credit: )
On the desk in the large, sunny office in which Adina Haham spends so much of her time, are baskets piled with letters for her to sign, material she still must read, a thick book of city by-laws and various other paraphernalia indicating that, even in a technological age in which so much data are stored in the computer, a busy administrator still has difficulty in clearing his or her worktop. Needless to say, aside from all the papers, she also has made space for her lap top to which she turns at every available opportunity. Like so many successful women who have reached their positions on the basis of merit rather than advocacy, Haham who serves as general manager of the Yehud Monosson Municipality, has not given much thought to the fact that she is a rarity, even though with the exception of her immediate office staff, most of the people she works with are men. Just as there are less than a handful of women mayors, there are very few women employed as general managers of city municipalities. "So how does it feel to break through the glass ceiling?" her interviewer asks. "We don't have to break the glass ceiling," she replies. "We just have to raise it." A lawyer by profession and the mother of four daughters aged 26 to 16, Haham, with her lithe, youthful figure and fine bone structure, looks younger than her 51 years. She exudes confidence and authority, but admits that she didn't always come across that way. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she grew up with very little sense of self-worth. In fact, it was only by discovering herself through the various jobs she held that she was able to become the person she is today. Her first job was as a teacher of autistic children - eventually, she headed the school in which she taught. Married to a successful lawyer, she decided to embark on a career change, studied law and went to work in her husband's office. Later, when she wanted a change of scenery, she made enough of an impression to be given the job of director-general of Ganei Yehoshua, the umbrella organization that controls major parklands in Tel Aviv. That gave her management experience. "After that, I dived head first into the work of the municipality," she says. As devoted as she is to her job with all the diversity that it offers, Haham does not believe that she will stay there until she reaches retirement age. "I like to accumulate knowledge," she explains. "Each time you do something new you learn something new, and because of this you have to try to do something better each day than you did the day before. I like to make maximum use of my knowledge and then move on to something else and learn something more that I didn't know before." There's also the social aspect. "Every place I work in I make new friends," says Haham, noting that a wide and varied circle of friends and acquaintances can often be helpful when one needs to make special contacts in any given area of influence. The major change in her life, she says, occurred when she went to law school and graduated at age 36. "It was a 180 degrees change," she recalls as she remembers the psychological obstacles she had to overcome. People asked her why she needed to go back to school and what she thought she would gain from it, and didn't she feel awkward sitting in classrooms with other students who were more than a decade younger than she was. Despite the doubts she persevered. Now, in retrospect, she can see that it was definitely worthwhile. "It's legitimate. You don't die from it, but you do have to get past a lot of cynicism and criticism." Though gaining her law degree was a personal triumph, the real revolution in her life, both professionally and personally, came about at Ganei Yehoshua "where I discovered things about myself of which I was completely unaware." Haham believes that there is a strong link between one's professional life and one's personality. "I never had the confidence I have now. I never thought that I was capable of doing some of the things that I did at Ganei Yehoshua. When you make a major change in your life you relate to people differently. When I was working as a lawyer, I dealt with files more than I dealt with people." She began to interact more with people even before joining Ganei Yehoshua. In 1996, she developed an acute sense of political awareness and joined the Gesher Party because of its socioeconomic platform. Like so many idealists who quickly learn differently, she had come to effect change. "But the experience was not what I expected. Real politics is a slap in the face. I was na ve." After Gesher collapsed, she became interested in local politics in Tel Aviv, where she lives, and then when the position of director of Ganei Yehoshua became available, she applied and was accepted. It took her awhile to grasp that the job was hers. "You have to dare if you want something," she says. "Before, I never dared to dream. Now I dare to do." The realization that she could dare, and that things might even work out in her favor if she did, influences her whole life. "It's like throwing a pebble in the water and watching the ripple effect. My whole social life changed. As the child of Holocaust survivors, it took me a long time to gain confidence. It also took me a long time to realize that my marriage was not exactly what I thought marriage should be - so I separated from my husband." Although she beat out other applicants for both her present and her immediate past positions, Haham admits that being a woman in a top executive job is not easy. "In Tel Aviv, they didn't take me seriously, simply because I was a woman. I had to fight my way with a lot of people in a lot of places. The attitude was 'Oh, a woman director-general. What does she know!' A man who was a general in the army gets credit before he does anything in civilian life because he has already proven his abilities. A woman has to do much more to get her due recognition." Being a woman in her present position is not exactly easy either. When she first came into the job, some of the veterans in the Yehud Municipality treated her like a dumb broad - which made her very angry. Though, of course, there was a lot for her to learn, she admits. On the other hand, she would not have been taken on if Mayor Yossi Ben David and other leading figures who stood behind her did not think she was qualified. To the doubting Thomases, her advice is: "Give me a little credit, and find out how much I know before you pass judgment." Appearances can be deceptive. The slightly built and very feminine looking Haham can hold her own with any man - and that includes, if necessary, the use of a few choice expletives generally used in strictly male circles. Haham let them have it with both barrels. "I knocked them out," she says with satisfaction. "I even shocked myself, but looking back, it was worth it." Haham came to the Yehud Monosson Municipality in February 2005 after four-and-a-half years at Ganei Yehoshua. "I'd already realized my potential at Ganei Yehoshua and I had gone as far as I could go." Taking up her job was a career move but not a residential one as the law requires that only the mayor must be a resident of the municipality he/she rules. Yehud-Monosson, a 25-minute bus ride out of Tel Aviv but still within the 03 telephone network, has some 30,000 residents - mostly veterans. There are relatively few new immigrants or Arabs. Haham is boss to some 250 municipal employees. There were more when she came, but one of her mandates was to reduce the deficit while simultaneously upgrading city services to residents, so she had to decrease the payroll by some 20 employees. She handled the matter with as much sensitivity as possible, with the result being that there were no riots at City Hall. Although the population is by and large in the high socioeconomic category, the city itself has been operating for some years on a huge deficit that currently stands at NIS 130 million in relation to a budget of NIS 120m. One of Haham's tasks is to try to raise more money from the Ministry of the Interior as well as from investments with financial institutions. She also has to represent the municipality in a number of government offices, and must keep her finger on the pulse of all municipal income and expenditure including education, cultural and sporting activities, social welfare, quality of the environment, infrastructure, engineering, city planning and then some. Though onerous, the work is fascinating because it enables her to at least touch the surface of everything in Yehud that comes within the municipality's purview. What she loves about her job is that "all municipal work in the final analysis allows you to see results." That does not always happen in other places where there isn't the same sense of satisfaction at the end of the day, despite the many frustrations along the way. "Every day here is like a war," she admits, though she obviously enjoys the battle - especially when she emerges victorious. She takes her work with her wherever she goes. The lap top accompanies her not only to her home, but to coffee shops where she can still keep on an eye on municipal business while socializing with friends. Yehud Monosson is a two township neighboring conglomerate, which in its totality, according to Haham, is still not much more than a village. The village atmosphere was particularly evident she said, with the recent death of the Mayor's wife who, like the mayor, was born in Yehud. "The whole town came to the funeral." There are no set working hours in Haham's job description. She arrives at the office at 8:30 a.m. after waking at 5:30, reading the morning papers and doing a workout on her treadmill at home. If there's a need, she will get to the office before 8:30. She often works until 6, 7 or even 8 at night and then takes work home with her. Haham concedes that she's very tired when she gets home at the end of the day, but she's also very satisfied with what she's accomplishing. Since she took over, the municipality with its 15 member council, including the mayor, has begun to understand that everything has to be run within specified economic parameters and that there must be more transparency. "It's very intensive work. There are non-stop problems for which you have to find solutions, and there are back-to-back meetings. For all that, however, she makes sure she does not neglect her nutrition. Her diet consists mainly of salads. "When you put the right food in your body and you exercise, it's good for your soul," she says. Her only regret as a woman is that "men have a fantastic network while women are less conscious of the need to network in order to help each other to advance." Profile of a powerhouse Name:Adina Haham Profession: City Manager Age: 51 Status: Separated with four daughters, including 16-year-old twins Education: Law degree and teaching certificate for autistic children Professional milestones: Teacher of autistic children Lawyer after graduating at age 36 Director-general of Ganei Yehoshua General manager of the Yehud Monosson Municipality