Empowering Women in Civil Society

20 April 2023

Photo credit: Gilad Kavalerchik

While women represent around 70% of staff in Israeli social change organizations, they are underrepresented in leadership and managerial roles, especially in larger organizations. This important shortcoming was illuminated in a 2022 research project coordinated by Shatil, Dr. Gal Deutsch from Tel Aviv University, and Politically Correct, a feminist newspaper.

To help combat this disparity, Shatil designed Tzameret, a three-month long leadership program for 18 Palestinian and Israeli women working in middle management positions in civil society who are looking to advance into more senior roles. The course covers a variety of leadership skills, including effective communication in times of conflict, how to tell your story, money management, strategic organizational thinking, and more. In addition to concrete skills, Tzameret took into consideration another critical element for success as a leader: a strong network. 

“We know that extensive professional and personal networks are necessary to advance and succeed in management and leadership positions in civil society,” said Brit Yakobi, Shatil’s Director of Religious Freedom and Gender and co-director of Tzameret. “We are also aware of the gender aspects of networking…women face greater obstacles in creating networks, hence the importance of building ‘women’s clubs’ as a space for strengthening professional networks for diverse Jewish and Palestinian women.”

To sit in a Tzameret meeting is to admire how deftly the elements of relationship building, peer-learning, and professional development come together in harmony. I had the honor of joining their day in Lod which explored different world views in social change organizations. In between sessions the room was full of conversation that flowed naturally out of discussions of current affairs and programming, story swaps, and women offering other women their professional insights. Time and space for self-reflection was built into every day of programming, and the effect was a coherent cohort excited to be learning together every session.

“We wanted a diverse group of women to really represent all parts of society,” explained Merav Dagan, a Shatil social change organizer and co-director of Tzameret. “I feel like that was one of our best decisions; we gathered an incredible cohort. Most of them didn’t know each other beforehand, which meant there was so much more room for everyone to learn from each other.” In addition to the skillful combination of cohort-building and skills-based learning, what makes Tzameret such a unique learning experience is that each session topic was chosen with this group of women in mind. 

The program culminated in a closing session at the Canadian Embassy with Lisa Stadelbauer, the Canadian Ambassador, where the participants spent the afternoon in conversation with leading women in civil society.

Even though the program just ended, the impact is already noticeable. In the duration of the program two participants took on new leadership positions, and eight shared that they were empowered to take steps in improving their professional status, such as applying for promotions.

For one participant, the timing of the program was perfect. “The start of the program coincided perfectly with the end of my first year managing a department. Getting to meet all these amazing women transformed the way I think about myself (both in the role and beyond), and enriched my capacity for political imagination.”

Another stated, “Tzameret strengthened my perception of myself as a capable leader by creating the space for me to reflect on the process I went through, helping me air out concerns and dilemmas, and connecting me to a community of like-minded individuals dealing with similar challenges.”

Tzameret is one piece of a larger puzzle. Shatil’s efforts to transform gender equality in the social change world also include a series of trainings and practi-zooms (one-off zoom sessions which focus on a specific skill or topic), research projects, and a focus on the systemic elements at play. “We know that the discrepancy in leadership isn’t going to be resolved exclusively with individual-focused efforts such as Tzameret,” explained Merav. “There is a combination of systemic and individual factors at play, and that is the bigger picture of Shatil’s work going forward.”