Stephanie Blumenkranz is the Assistant Director at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY), and Julie Sissman is a member of JWFNY’s New York Metropolitan Grants and Advocacy Committees. JWFNY imagines a world in which all women and girls have equal opportunity for economic, religious, social, and political achievement. As part of their efforts, JWFNY recently adopted a policy stating they will only accept grant applications from organizations with paid parental leave policies that offer their employees at least four weeks of paid parental leave at full salary. They are the first foundation in the Jewish and secular communities to establish a criterion of this type.
Stephanie and Julie are alumni of JOIN’s Don’t Kvetch, Organize! online course in community organizing, which they both took in the Fall of 2015. We had the opportunity to hear from them about this policy and their experience in the course.
(Pictured above: Julie Sissman (left) and Stephanie Blumenkanz (right).)
Why is paid parental leave such an important issue to you personally?
Julie: I have two kids, and my time at home with them was incredibly important to me. I happen to work for a company that paid me for my maternity leave for longer than four weeks. Those first four weeks are an incredibly important time for parents, and it can be a real burden to manage if you’re not being paid for it.
Why did you want to take the course?
Stephanie: I oversee the foundation’s advocacy initiatives. We sit on many different coalitions, and are an active voice in the field promoting better family policies in the workplace. But in terms of actions, we were looking for a way to step it up, and I thought this course would be a great way to learn more about how to do that.
Why did you decide as an organization to work on adopting this policy to only accept applications from organizations that have paid parental leave?
Stephanie: We had been advocates for paid parental leaves for many years. Parents in positions that pay more can usually afford to take time off; it’s parents who are poorer who can’t, and who have to come back to work just two weeks after becoming parents. We wanted organizations to have these policies in place for all employees so everyone, and not just more senior people in their organizations, could be afforded the benefit of parental leave.
In 2010, we started asking organizations that applied for grants about their paid parental leave and flexible schedule policies, but we did not eliminate based on these criteria. This past year it frustrated some of our donors that we could fund groups that are national leaders in creating better family policies in the workplace, yet did not have strong policies for their own employees. We realized that funding an organization that didn’t have these polices in place went against so much of what we were doing.
Julie: So I emailed Stephanie, saying: “I think we should be bold. Let’s not just talk around it, let’s be bold. Let’s put a stake in the ground and say we think this is really important, so important that we won’t give you a grant unless you have a policy.” If we’re serious about our mission, we should be bold around parental leave.
Stephanie: That’s what really got this conversation off the ground. Then it was the Chair of the Advocacy Committee, Avra Gordis, whose leadership skills helped bring the policy to fruition.
(Pictured: Members of JWFNY with Bev Neufeld from PowHer NY, an organization working to create economic equality for women in NY.)
Can you give an example of how the course supported this work?
Julie: The course helped me understand key organizing precepts – such as how to think strategically about who are the key people and influencers needed to make change happen. Having that framework supported how we thought about getting this project off the ground.
Stephanie: When we brought this issue to the Advocacy Committee, this is where tactics I learned in Don’t Kvetch, Organize! really took hold. Out of everything I learned in that course, there were a few things that stuck out the most. One is that the power and passion of a campaign or effort have to come from the people who are doing the organizing, not the person leading. Going into this meeting with the committee, I purposely had donors be active in leading the conversation. This is because I learned that what someone says is only half of it; the other half is who is the one saying it, and who has the relationships. For the committee to hear from someone in a similar seat as them – one of our donors – that really made a difference.
Why should someone take JOIN’s online course, Don’t Kvetch, Organize?
Stephanie: The course makes you rethink what you’re doing. By hearing what people have done and learning from their experience, the course really forces you think about your own work. Anyone – both newer and seasoned organizers – could gain knowledge and understanding form that course.
I realized through the course how much more change I could create by enabling and providing space for others to lead and become change-makers. These ideas about enabling others to act really hit home during the week of the course that we learned about campaigns. That week I was pushed to think deeply about how to create social change, and how important it is to build power and develop leadership with the people I am working with.
What was it like to take the course with someone else who worked with you in your organization?
Stephanie: It was great! We would check in on each other, ask each other what the other’s thoughts were on such and such. It was really helpful to have people to bounce ideas off of. The course is intense and it made such a positive difference to have someone take it with me to talk to them about what we were learning, and to be able to continue that conversation even after the course has ended.
JOIN for Justice would like to thank the JWFNY for being a supporter of our online course.