Uncovering Pathways to Progress: Lessons from Prizmah’s Orthodox Women in Leadership Initiatives

When approaching the complex challenge of growing the leadership pipeline in Jewish day schools, one strategy is to identify specific population segments ripe for growth, analyze current realities and explore the broader applicability of those findings. We have invested in research exploring Orthodox women’s leadership and derived lessons that we believe can inform the broader day school field. In the 2023 school year, 22% of Orthodox schools in Prizmah’s network are headed by women, compared to 54% of other Jewish and non-Jewish independent schools. Through strategic emphasis on Orthodox women in leadership, we aim to enrich individual institutions and foster a more inclusive and dynamic landscape across Jewish day schools.

Prizmah pursued a dual strategy to bolster the pipeline of Orthodox women in leadership roles: first, investing in comprehensive multi-method research and data analysis to gain insights into the current landscape; second, crafting programmatic initiatives aimed at translating these insights into actionable recommendations.


Targeted Research 

When Prizmah studied the salaries of heads of Orthodox schools and compared that data with salary findings from the National Association of Independent Schools’ Data and Analysis for School Leadership, which includes data from non-Jewish Independent schools and Community, Conservative, Reform and Pluralistic Jewish day schools, we found gaps in salary between men and women at schools across the Jewish spectrum. In fact, gender was the most powerful predictor of head of school salary. Our data revealed that for every dollar a male head of school earns, a female head earns 21–22 cents less, no matter the type of school. Narrowing the salary gap could be an important step toward attracting more women to senior leadership positions.

Aiming to delve deeper, Prizmah partnered with Rosov Consulting to conduct qualitative research on the culture and conditions of leadership for women in Orthodox schools. In order to grow the number of potential senior leaders, we sought to understand the impediments and inroads that impact the advancement of Orthodox women through the pipeline and hiring process in Orthodox schools.


Orthodox Women’s Leadership Cohort

Prizmah’s Orthodox Women’s Leadership Cohort offers a rich, collaborative experience tailored for Orthodox women navigating the demands of their personal and professional lives. Since its inception in 2022, Prizmah’s Orthodox Women’s Leadership Cohort has served close to 60 women working in Jewish day schools and yeshivas across North America. Women who participate in the program hold a variety of roles including assistant principal, grade dean, school psychologist or counselor, director of teaching and learning, department chair, and principal. The cohort serves as a dynamic leadership network, fostering mentorship opportunities and meaningful peer connections. 

Through an in-person gathering, monthly cohort meetings and small group conversations, rising leaders join together with colleagues experiencing similar professional trajectories and strengthen their skills as a group, supporting one another through the process. Veteran female heads of school spend time sharing their own leadership journeys with the cohort and develop mentoring relationships with individuals in the group.


Pathways to Progress

Over the past two years, our conversations, discussions, reflections and research have led us to identify six elements that support advancement through the Jewish day school and yeshiva pipeline. While these insights were gleaned from specific experiences with Orthodox women, their applicability extends universally.

Role clarity provides leaders with a clear roadmap, enabling them to navigate career paths more effectively, harness their strengths, and confidently advance in their professional journey.

Acquiring skills in supervision, boundary setting and contract negotiation empowers people to assertively advocate for their value, navigate workplace dynamics with confidence and strategically position themselves for career advancement opportunities.

A healthy support network includes opportunities for talking through professional challenges and celebrating successes with colleagues. Individuals gain a sense of belonging and expand their access to new opportunities. 

Mentorship provides educators with invaluable guidance, encouragement, and opportunities for reflection while giving them access to insight and guidance critical for career advancement. Mentors who are open about their own experiences and role models within schools themselves can demystify senior leadership positions for rising leaders. Mentorship from an experienced school leader helps to shape the formation of a leader’s identity and the way she sees herself.

Incremental advancement enables educators to move through a series of fixed leadership positions that increase their scope of responsibilities. When leaders have opportunities to flex their talents and increase their leadership skills, they are better prepared to assume senior positions. 

Invest in talent tapping. Asking someone “Have you ever considered applying for this job?” might plant the first seed to nourish a leader’s career. The impact of hearing from a senior leader “This is a job that you would be good at” is tremendous. Being identified and encouraged as someone with the talent to become a senior leader can open up a whole new perspective on a career.

The journey towards enhancing the educator pipeline in Jewish day schools demands a multifaceted approach, as illustrated by Prizmah’s initiatives supporting Orthodox women in leadership roles. By combining rigorous research with tailored programmatic interventions, we aspire to narrow existing disparities and cultivate greater pathways for educators to ascend the leadership ladder. People in all positions at schools have a role to play in expanding the pipeline of leaders.  Through collective action, we can harness the full potential of our educational institutions, enriching our schools and strengthening our shared future.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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