(March 8, 2020 / JNS) As the first woman CEO at a major Jewish nonprofit, I’m a bit of an anomaly.
A 2018 survey by Leading Edge: Alliance for Excellence in Jewish Leadership found that while women comprise 70 percent of employees at Jewish organizations, they make up only 30 percent of those organizations’ CEOs.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that as baby boomers begin to retire, in the next decade 75-90 percent of Jewish NGOs will seek a new generation of talented individuals to lead them, according to the survey.
This represents an excellent opportunity for young women, and I encourage them to seize every opportunity that comes their way because they, too, can forge their own path to leadership. That’s the message which is inspiring me to action for this year’s International Women’s Day.
I’m often asked how I attained the role of a lifetime as the first female CEO in the 90-year history of The Jewish Agency for Israel. After all, this is an organization that once employed former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as chairman, and Golda Meir, who served as head of its political department.
While I appreciate the significance of being the first woman to hold this position, I believe (and hope) that it was my 24-year professional experience and history at the institution—and not my gender—that got me to where I am today.
During my tenure at The Jewish Agency in various management roles, I’ve had the privilege to nurture and inspire those who work with me. I’ve encouraged them to dare and think big and have then given them the space to do so. All ideas, no matter how massive or daunting, can be achieved if we work together and relentlessly find a way to execute them.
Moreover, seeing those who work under me blossom in their roles is the greatest compliment I can receive as a manager. And it is that appreciation for fostering personal growth in others that often differentiates women managers from their male counterparts. After all, as women, we’re hard-wired to want to see the fruits of our labor develop into something remarkable.
I’ve also been motivated by various female role models along the way. Brave, strong, ambitious women who set an example of what it looks like to have a woman be in charge.
My mother (of blessed memory), for example, was an intelligent, educated woman who imparted wisdom that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Her ability to combine both femininity and strength in everything she did influences my leadership style on a daily basis. She taught me to know when to say yes, but also when to say no. She encouraged me to never accept anything at face value—to always exercise critical thinking and examine a situation from all sides before forming an opinion. Most importantly, she showed that when you’re presented with new information, never be afraid to change your mind.
Navigating the delicate balance of unabashedly knowing what you want, while still maintaining a sense of humanity and vulnerability, is a challenge for most women in high-profile positions. But to all women looking to climb the ladder of any organization, I advise them to never waver from this belief. You have both the right and the ability to hold a position of leadership and influence. Like any man, you should not only dream, but dream big.
Ironically, women have always had what it takes to steer the ship of any organization both large and small. Women’s innate ability to multitask positions them as excellent leaders and directors. This has always been the case, but it’s especially true in today’s workforce, where more women are standing up for themselves and what they deserve in their careers.
Whether in a living room or boardroom, a woman can take a variety of opinions and facts into account, respect them, and then make decisions in a way that allows her team to feel heard while staying true to her vision and values.
Women shouldn’t be afraid. They should be ambitious, blazing their paths to positions of influence and never look back.
Amira Ahronoviz is CEO of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
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