Our various newsfeeds these past few months have been dominated by the reports of sexual harassment and assault. In business, in media and in politics. We wake up each day in anticipation of what the news will bring. Who else will be accused of taking advantage of their authority and power?
Jewish communal and non-sectarian organizations and synagogues – all houses of worship – are really no different. Rabbis have been dismissed from their congregations and expelled from their professional organizations. Agency CEOs, too. Think of the Catholic Church.
Societal pressure as well insurance companies have strongly encouraged – even required – organizations and synagogues to provide an annual seminar/training to staff as to proper behavior. But is such training ever mandated for board members? For donors? Even the Jews in the Pews?
I was thinking about a number of instances in my own career:
-Early in my career, I found myself in a living room where a program for donors is being held. I am chatting with the organization’s CEO when a board member, who is also a $100,000 contributor, walks into the room and asks “Is there a Chippy in the other room?” I remain silent leaving it to the CEO to respond. He simply changes the subject;
-Joe, a past president, and a World War II veteran, is the Chairperson of the Capital Campaign. He greets me and my boss Jake with firm handshakes, and my colleague Becky – a young woman in her 30s – with a very big smile, an encapsulating hug and then blows in her ear;
-I ask Angela, a member of our Admin team to bring an envelope of checks to the Finance Department. She returns to our work area and shares with me that in the elevator on the way back Lee, a staff member from the Finance Department, had fondled her breast. Angela asked him what gave him the right to do that, and he responded he liked to touch her.
Of course, mainstream views of sexual harassment and assault have changed over the arc of one’s career. Maybe having more life experiences today, I would have the guts to speak up to the $100,000 board member in front of the CEO.
Joe was admired by everyone, staff and board members alike. Today, I would I hope I have the courage to tell him privately that such behavior is totally inappropriate. The recent news stories about President George H.W. Bush reminded me of Joe. He was a wonderful partner in our work together. But there are those in leadership positions today in organizations and in synagogues who still treat women – young women, in particular – inappropriately.
Angela’s experience prompted me to walk down to the Finance Department and speak with Lee’s boss, Scott. This is before organizations were providing any staff training about this issue. I told Scott he needed to speak to Lee about what is appropriate behavior. Or I would.
Staff must certainly lead by example for board members. And male staff must be quick to speak up when behavior by either colleagues or volunteers makes for an unwelcoming work environment. We all have to “speak truth to power” so that everyone we work with is treated justly and with dignity.