I graduated from Cornell University in 2012, and began working for Hillel International in Washington, D.C. shortly after. As a freshman, I skeptically took on a leadership role for a Cornell Hillel student group, just as a favor to a friend. To my initial surprise, when this commitment ended, I stayed active in Hillel and gradually took on more leadership opportunities. By my senior year, I had gone to Israel with Hillel, interned for CU Hillel over a summer in New York City and served on CU Hillel’s Student Executive Board. While in college, I found it difficult to find the time and place for non-academic, personal growth; so I will always appreciate Cornell Hillel for investing in me and fostering my leadership skills outside of the classroom.
I guess largely due to the progressive environment in which I was raised, I started undergrad as what I’ll call a “hesitant feminist.” Four years later, I was a fully-fledged, empowered female pre-professional. While I sought to enter the professional world, however, I was faced with unexpected challenges. Challenges that my liberal arts education had led me to believe were effectively dissolved by the likes of Gloria Steinem decades prior. I had incorrectly assumed that gender inequality in the workplace would not be a plight of my generation.
My strong convictions are likely my greatest personal asset for combating lingering gender inequality, but thankfully, I also work for Hillel. I know first-hand that Hillel fosters women’s leadership through its work on campus. And around the world, Hillel helps empower Jewish women students to become community leaders.
Hillel is also committed to the professional development of its women employees. This winter, Hillel International sponsored a cohort of young women professionals, including myself, to attend Jewish Women International’s inaugural Young Leadership Conference and 13th Annual Women to Watch Awards Gala. My colleagues and I attended workshops, rubbed elbows with countless successful Jewish women, and got to meet so many professional role models in one place.
I am thankful for the work of JWI and other like-minded organizations that are providing opportunities like this for women to build professional skills and networks. This work is critical towards helping women overcome workplace inequality, which, unfortunately, may continue being an issue for some time to come.
At Hillel, young professionals to senior leadership are continuing to find areas where we can still improve as an organization on these issues. The past few months, alone, are perfect examples. Two of my well-deserving women colleagues were promoted to be Vice Presidents at Hillel International, University of Maryland Hillel hosted Hillel’s first Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference for students and young professionals, and Hillel International’s President and CEO, Eric Fingerhut, signed AWP’s “Men as Allies” pledge to not convene or appear on all-male panels. For all of this, I am grateful.
Susu Fried is an Advancement Executive at Hillel International.