Lean in, ask for equal pay, get fired.




Ken Auletta on why Jill Abramson was fired as executive editor of the New York Times:

As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson, who spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, had been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, which accounted for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”

I think “assertive” and “exhibiting leadership” is what they call “pushy” when a man does it.  (Because non-pushy people get to be executive editors of the New York Times?  Come on!)  And when you find out that underlings are paid more than you and you complain about it?  Now, that’s pushy.  Should schmoes like me feel better or worse that this happens to the Jill Abramsons of the world too, and not just to would-be beginning Assistant Professors of Philosophy?

I sure hope she writes a barn-burner of a book about this, if Auletta is even halfway right in his analysis.  I’d buy it, read it, and buy copies for all of my junior colleagues and mentees.  I’d also see that my university buys that book.  I’d also assign passages of it to my students when we read about patriarchal equilibrium (h/t Judith Bennett) in my classes.

18 thoughts on “Lean in, ask for equal pay, get fired.

  1. I notice also in that article that the other person who’d been up for Abramson’s job, now has it. I’ve seen this time and again — people who might settle down and behave under a male administrator form a cabal to undermine a woman administrator ASAP. It’s not just getting the job, it’s also keeping it under the intense scrutiny and no-win rules people apply to women in power.


  2. This story intersects interestingly with an obituary in the NYT yesterday for Judith Cummings, who was recruited from a speechwriting position at EEOC as part of the paper’s fledgling diversification efforts, and later joined in a suit alleging discrimination in hiring, assignments, and promotions. The intersect is broad, but maybe the key part is that she later alleged that minority journalists were “assigned to urban affairs or general assignment (same thing),” where they became became “trapped there for years” while whites got exposure to other beats. The obit notes that the settlement of the suit included a Times agreement to give minority journalists serious consideration for “national and foreign assignments.” She did become LA bureau chief. The story on Abramson today noted that her appointment had been “a departure for the paper, which had historically chosen executive editors who had worked in oversees bureaus or had managed desks like Foreign of Metropolitan…” Thus, the subtle category and promotion-path obstacles that Cummings’ cohort met a long half-generation ago were precisely the things that cut off the route to the top.

    It was also interesting to note that the story–as reported from inside the Times–made no effort to hide that the discontent and “impatience” of the deputy and eventual successor played a part in the outcome. His “slamming his hand against the wall” in a meeting with the chief last year was I guess seen less as “pushy” than eager and decisive.

    The Times, of course, is a literally as well as an analytically patriarchal institution, in its long-term control by a dynastic family.


  3. p.s. The Times also reports, separately, that the editor in chief of _Le Monde_, Natalie Nougayrede, was forced to resign yesterday, amid a newsroom revolt. She got the job as a result of a news staff election. It had to do with management style issues, but also apparently was a part of the ongoing strife over digital v. print.


  4. Linden’s remarks are so true! I live this reality. I am the first woman ever to head my department since my institution was founded in the nineteenth century. And there is SO MUCH UNDERMINING from a cadre of older white guys, one of whom I suspect wanted / wants the job I have. Also, while I need to be vague and general, I will just note that many things male department heads have done in the past with no controversy are huge and problematic “issues” when I do them.


  5. Not surprisingly, many mainstream articles about Abramson have a “on the one hand and the other” parts. Really? Furthermore, none of the articles I read has anything meaningful to say.

    Firing the head dog at the top dog paper in the country is a major event. Unless she spit in their faces and kicked them in the nuts, one would expect the dogs to be more contemplative about the firing. They weren’t. They don’t care. They don’t expect it to backfire. They may be right, but it also means that we the readers are push overs. It’s not just another day.

    I’ll leave to women the talk about the female/male disparity. They’ll do a better job.


  6. Neatly tying this post to your previous one, I just saw on the Twitterz that Abramson will be delivering the commencement address at Wake Forest on Monday.

    Now THAT is a commencement address I’d like to attend.


  7. @koshembos
    “I’ll leave to women the talk about the female/male disparity. They’ll do a better job.”

    Except… nobody listens when women talk about it. They only listen to the men. And mostly just the white men.


  8. I’m inclined to think that it’s not entirely coincidental that they were willing to put a woman at the helm of the newspaper just as the newspaper was looking less and less like a profitable business (though its cultural importance is still undoubted, yada, yada, yada). There are parallels in academia, of course. Has anybody looked into the extent to which rising numbers of female department chairs correlate with waning real power for chairs? Of course there are female deans, and provosts, and presidents, but I’d still argue that the more a job begins to look like time-consuming but not particularly powerful, prestigious, and/or profitable scut work, the more likely you’ll find a woman doing it.

    And I will now return to grading papers for my 3 composition sections and one core lit. class.


  9. Rebecca Traister on Abramson’s “singularly humiliating” dump from the Times:

    Observing the sharp contrast between this kinder, gentler transition and the cold glee with which Abramson was tossed on her ass today made me hope that eventually we will learn that she was stealing from the company cash register. Because that’s pretty much the only crime I can think of that would merit as swift and brutal an exit for a woman who—good or bad at her job, or, more likely, like most bosses in the world, some combination of the two—represented an undeniably historic first in journalism and at The New York Times.


  10. This cuts way too close to the bone. I was done with this garbage decades ago. When is it going to be OVER?

    And this? “under the intense scrutiny and no-win rules people apply to women in power.” Too right. Except you don’t have to be in power.

    The next renaissance will start when people stop wasting half the human race.


  11. When is it going to be OVER?

    For all practical purposes & considering human lifespans, never. We’re talking about a long game involving probably (conservatively) a 1,000 year horizon of change. The undervaluing and devaluing of women’s labor probably goes back into prehistory.

    When you think about it that way, the progress women have made in the last 300+ years is pretty impressive! First even women in the West had to achieve literacy. Next came feminism ca. 1780 or so. Then came feminist political action in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet for all that, it’s still not time to sit back and smell the equality.

    No matter what they say, feminism is neither irrelevant nor over. (That’s what they say because they fear us & want us to quit/shut up/go away.)


  12. When I take a good long view, I can see that too. Things are definitely better than in the days of the Ancient Assyrians. And looking as far into the future, whatever civilization rises out of the globally warmed floodwaters of this one will probably be as much of an improvement over Us as we were over The Past. (And you’re very right that even in 300 years, not 3000, there have been real gains.)

    But a lot of the time I just get eyestrain and want to scream because of all the crap right here I keep tripping over.


  13. Well, Auletta also notes that her bringing in a lawyer was considered particularly bad: but firing someone because if you fire someone who brings in a lawyer while alleging employment discrimination, that’s really bad. So my hunch is that this story won’t go away…


  14. Yeah: retaining a lawyer was just further evidence of her “pushiness.”

    Sultzberger is an idiot, and he and the men whose complaints about Abramson he entertained exposed his company to a world of financial hurt as well as international opprobrium.


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