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Women and the Workplace

May 8, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

Women are blessed with the special talents to create positive environments wherever we are and with whatever we are doing.

A woman writes:

"I am about to re-enter the workforce, and I am concerned about how this new point of emphasis in my life will affect my family and my self-definition as a woman. Are there any guidelines you can offer? What are some practical suggestions and tips I can take with me?"

Indeed, more women are entering the workplace than ever before, citing economic, psychological and other reasons. As more women find themselves in the public arena, it is important to remain keenly aware that inwardness, privacy, and family relationships must dominate our personal domain, and are the characteristics that make up the core of our existence.

Although the "woman of valor," as depicted by King Solomon, buys and sells fields and handles merchant ships from afar, the overriding focus of her existence is her relationships with her husband, children and family.

Financial and political setbacks paled when compared to failures in her familial relationships.

Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, reconfirmed this notion in an interview during which she indicated that, in her own very public life, financial and political setbacks paled when compared to failures in her familial relationships. She discovered that it was her private life, not the public one, which was the core of her feminine reality.

This is true for any working mother, who must struggle constantly to keep priorities in order.

Take Susan, for example, an asset manager for a multi-national corporation, busy at her computer negotiating stock deals. Every few minutes her eyes dart to the large bay window opposite her through which she can see her toddler swinging happily in the backyard playground. Susan is watching her child while she is conducting business. Her emphasis is on the child -- he is her priority.

It's a bit easier to remain focused on what's important to our feminine reality when we stay within the home environment.


The patriarch, Jacob, was the first to blaze a trail for us in our journey to the working world. He left the spiritually supportive context, built by his grandfather and father, Abraham and Isaac, on a journey that led him to Laban, his future father-in-law. All at once, his world was filled with deceit and treachery, the antithesis of what had nurtured him in the "tents" of his childhood. It is undeniably the 14 years he spent in the study halls of "Shem and Ever," which fortified him enough to withstand the odious temptations presented in his new environment.

When we go out into the workplace, we too must be bolstered by spiritual immersion. Toward this end, we need to surround ourselves with like-minded friends and associates. We need to take advantage of any workday breaks by filling them with as much Jewish learning experiences as possible.

When we go out into the workplace, we too must be bolstered by spiritual immersion.

To maintain our integrity in the workplace, we must present ourselves as a counter message to the unending bombardment of Madison Avenue hype and promotion which dictates the American lifestyle.

One who abides by kosher dietary standards, for example, as difficult as that might be in the workplace, proclaims loud and clear that she marches to the beat of a transcendent drummer. The way we dress, our choice of verbal expressions are both reminders to ourselves and statements to others of exactly who we are.

Some years back, my husband and I conducted a Jewish retreat weekend in Oxnard, California at a lovely resort hotel on the marina. Passing the pool area on our way back from one of the sessions, one of the guests -- looking like Mr. Cool with a towel swung over his shoulder and gold chains gleaming in the sun -- encountered my husband, who despite the warm California weather was dressed in the traditional Chassidic garb. "Why do you insist on dressing in those clothes of yesteryear in this modern world," snickered Mr. Cool in an obviously confrontational manner.

Rather than acting nonplussed, my husband took the opportunity to explain that policeman wear a uniform in order to identify themselves as figures of authority. In much the same way, a rabbi wears a uniform so that he is identified as a representative with a sacred calling. More importantly, my husband asserted, his dress was most certainly a statement to himself and to the world that he was not buying into the pathological fabric of our society.


Perils of the workplace abound for women eager to be successful while still maintaining their singular feminine qualities.

When Charlotte began her career 15 years ago, she believed she could use her feminine characteristics of kindness, caring sensitivity and gentleness to help her succeed in the male-dominated workplace. Instead, little by little, her essential feminine qualities were replaced with callousness, opportunism and ruthlessness -- the signposts of corporate male America. True, she was one of the most successful woman executives in the game, but she was feared and hated by everyone who worked for her -- female and male alike. She wondered now how it had happened, how she had lost her feminine essence, how her dream had shattered.

Jewish women, whether entering or firmly entrenched in the workplace, must be ever diligent to uphold the wisdom of Torah guidelines circumscribing relationships between the genders.

We read constantly of public figures engaged in adulterous affairs and sexual harassment.

From local to national news, we read constantly of public figures engaged in adulterous affairs and sexual harassment. It is essential to put safeguards in place, especially in our open society where men and women work so closely together. There are indeed times and circumstances in each of our lives that make us particularly vulnerable. Jewish law offers strict guidelines for precautionary measures so that women and men can avoid compromising situations.


After 20 years of working for the deceitful and dishonest Laban, Jacob gathers his family to head back home. "Behold I see the face of your father Laban and it doesn't look to me as it did yesterday and the day before," Jacob explains as the reason for his leaving. Literally, we understand this to mean that Laban wasn't as kindly disposed as he had been in the past. My father, of blessed memory, had a deeper explanation of the passage:

Up until recently, Jacob had seen Laban for what he really was, a scoundrel garbed in a presentable demeanor. Jacob knew it was time to leave because he stopped seeing through Laban. All at once, Laban wasn't looking as despicable as he had in the past. Jacob had become desensitized, and he recognized that meant it was too dangerous for him and his family to remain.

When we find ourselves justifying what heretofore was unacceptable, it is indicative of an erosion of values and sensitivities. It is time for us to run our life's scenarios past an expert, to reassess and to reevaluate. It is time for us to find a mentor and take a "spiritual checkup."

Women are blessed with the special talents to create positive environments wherever we are and with whatever we are doing. We can accomplish this by incorporating the above mentioned lessons:

  1. being ever mindful of our primary purpose as women;
  2. fortifying ourselves with the necessary values for our journey into a valueless world;
  3. not compromising our standards of behavior;
  4. maintaining our unique feminine characteristics described by anthropologist, Ashley Montague, as the "genius of humanity";
  5. taking Torah-mandated precautionary measures in dealing with the occupational hazards of inter-gender relationships;
  6. cultivating a relationship with a spiritual guide, mentor who will help us subject ourselves to periodic "spiritual checkups" to verify we are accomplishing the goals of our personal life's mission statement.

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