Helping women in our community get their voices heard

Helping women in our community get their voices heard

'Hopefully women will realise they don’t have to know every single detail about a subject to have, and share, an opinion with others. It is our hope that they will speak up more loudly and demand to be heard.'

Photo: Peter Haskin
Photo: Peter Haskin

THE Australian Jewish community is missing the boat when it comes to seriously addressing women’s issues. Women are sick of excuses around ongoing panels with no female representation, a dearth of female leadership in so many community organisations and the lack of real momentum or interest in changing these facts on the ground.

This is despite the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Vic)’s campaign, #makespaceforher, through which organisations undertake to make change. There is no longer any possibility that the community is unaware of these issues.

It is not just in formal forums that the problem exists. At the Shabbat dinner table or in small mixed groups, women are often reluctant to speak up and share their opinions. They don’t consider themselves experts in the subject and are quick to question their ideas, whether it’s on community politics or Israeli settlements. Too often they are happy to defer to the confident-sounding men, who often have even less idea or expertise about what they are discussing.

It feels like the rest of the world is shifting on this front. See this recent job posting at the Whitney Museum:

“Not sure you meet 100 per cent of our qualifications? Research shows that men apply for jobs when they meet an average of 60 per cent of the criteria. Yet, women and other people who are systematically marginalised tend to only apply if they meet every requirement. If you believe that you could excel in this role, we encourage you to apply.”

It goes on to encourage candidates with diverse experiences and backgrounds at different life stages. Every Whitney job posting includes this messaging. This is just one of the ways organisations can make a concrete effort to encourage different voices.

While it is clear that continuing to disempower women through exclusion is bad for women, there is ample evidence that this is also bad for the community. We often think the proof is in the bottom line – and it is now clear the bottom line increases between six per cent and 11 per cent when women are on high power company boards.

In 2004, the US-based non-profit research organisation Catalyst report “The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation of Boards” found higher financial performance for companies with higher representation of women board directors in three important measures: return on equity; return on sales; and return on invested capital. Catalyst found that, on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 per cent.

An October 2011 report by the Australian Reibey Institute found that over three and five year periods, ASX500 companies with women directors delivered significantly higher return on equity than those companies without women on their boards.

Despite the differences between our organisations, one focusing on women and the other on Israel, we are equally frustrated by the unmet educational and leadership needs of women in our community. While there are women’s organisations in Australia doing great work, there are certainly many untapped areas where women’s equality could be further advanced or more broadly embraced.

Rather than waiting for the generally male-dominated leadership to embrace these and other changes, we have decided to try and make change on the ground. This includes upskilling women to be more confident in their ideas and opinions.

Adopting the feminist imperatives of collaboration and cooperation, of sharing and mutual support, we brainstormed a long list of potential areas to focus on developing. We narrowed down the selection to storytelling, op-ed writing and political activism. These are some critical skills that can be useful across multiple platforms.

We reached out to women we knew in the US and Israel with significant experience and expertise in these fields and asked them to share their wisdom with us. The result is a three-day interactive Women’s Empowerment Course run by NCJWA and the New Israel Fund (NIF) Australia on November 7-9.

Our hope is that it will attract women, young and old, keen to master or refine skills that will help them in both their professional and private lives. Hopefully women will realise they don’t have to know every single detail about a subject to have, and share, an opinion with others.

It is our hope that they will speak up more loudly and demand to be heard. They will help shape the community’s agenda and discussions moving forward.

To ensure the course is accessible to a wide range of participants across ages and income levels, it is free to those under 25 and those on low income.

Melinda Jones is president of NCJWA. Sharon Berger is the program manager at NIF Australia. To book for the workshop, visit

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