#MeToo: Everyone Needs to Speak Up!!

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.

2 comments on “#MeToo: Everyone Needs to Speak Up!!
  1. Women’s struggle to be treated with respect has been and continues to be an evolutionary process. Within the Temple community I personally had more issues with condescension than I did with sexual harassment. When I was nominated to run for the executive board, a position that would ultimately lead to being president, back in the early-to-mid 80’s the incoming male president threatened to quit the Temple. He, of course, did not and since then there have been many, many females in executive positions at the Temple, including as president. Time and evolution took care of that issue.

    I ran a large court reporting agency. At one point a lawyer I knew from the Temple called to request that I send a reporter to his office for a deposition to take place the next day. “Make sure you send me a pretty young thing in a mini skirt,” he stated. I answered as pleasantly as I could, “You don’t understand the business I’m in” (ha, ha). I sent a young male reporter to his office to cover the deposition. The next time this lawyer saw me he told me that I had no sense of humor and he never called my office again. I lost a client. This type of situation happened more than once, but I was always reluctant to send young, attractive women to a job if I had a concern about what the environment would be like once they got there.

    Of course this behavior wasn’t limited to the lawyer who I knew through my Temple. This behavior was commonplace for a small percentage of male lawyers (there were hardly any female lawyers when I started my business) who thought they were being funny or cute, and the women I would send to their office would often endure comments regarding their appearance and, on rare occasions, more aggressive behavior. However, I had noticed a change in demeanor among younger lawyers in the years before I sold my business. Younger men who have gone to college with women seeking careers tend to think of them as equals rather than objects. I believe this tends to be generational. Hopefully, the “Me too” movement will make a permanent change in how men and women interact with each other going forward.

    • admin says:

      Sandy,

      Thanks for sharing. The experiences you had in terms of synagogue leadership in the 1980s were probably very common in synagogues throughout North America at that time. Those involved today really stand on your shoulders, and others’, who literally paved the way.

      The generational issues are real. Maybe time will change this. But with everything that is going on in media and politics today, and other professions as well, it is important to sensitize synagogue leaders, board members and staff, to this important issue.

      Best Regards,

      David

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