Why Jill Abramson's New York Times Firing Matters

This Wednesday, Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times (and the first woman to hold this position) was unceremoniously fired from her position by her publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and replaced by managing editor Dean Baquet, an editor Abramson had originally beat out to land her top position.

A lot of the “why’s” and “how’s” of this termination are still being sorted out, but the picture that’s emerging makes this decision look like sexism in the workplace was a definite factor in this firing.

According to the New Yorker, several weeks prior to her termination, Abramson found out that her pay and pension benefits were significantly (about $100,000) less than that of the man who previously occupied her position. Sulzberger insists that her pay was “comparable to that of earlier executive editors” which is not the same thing as saying her pay was the same as the man who occupied the position before her. The way Sulzberger’s response is worded, he could be comparing her pay to the men that ran the paper during The Great Depression or The Civil War because THAT is how old the New York Times is. If Abramson was not properly compensated for her work, she had every right to demand what she was rightfully owed. And she did. But the New Yorker claims, after a few raises, her salary was still $34,000 less than her male counterpart’s.

The “gender wage gap” is a term you should get familiar with because it is a real problem in the workplace. In the United States women on average make 77 cents for ever dollar men make — that’s 23 percent less than the average male’s income. This statistic was true in 2002 and it was true in 2012. That means ten years passed us by and things didn’t change for the better. So much happened in that decade. Barack Obama became our first president of color. We sent a bunch of rovers to Mars. Phones got really, really, really cool. But the gender wage gap stayed the same. As women of the 21st century, we want to celebrate how far we have come. Jill Abramson’s firing doesn’t just suck for her, it sucks for all of us because it forces us to recognize all the battles we haven’t won, all the ways in which things are exactly the same as they were in a very sexist yesteryear.

Reports of Abramson’s firing don’t exclusively point the conflict with her pay. Yet some of the other issues brought up regarding her leadership (the words “pushy” and “brusque” have been used by New York Times employees and insiders) also smack of sexism. When’s the last time you heard a man accused of being pushy? For me it’s… never I think? These are words used to shame women for asserting their authority. And if you’re not asserting your authority while running the most respected publication in the United States of America, there’s no way you can be doing your job right. Abramson was not hired to be pleasant or even easy. She was hired to run the best paper in the country. And if she failed to do that, in ways large, medium, and/or small, that’s on her. But to take her to task for personality traits that in a man would be tolerated, if not outright celebrated? I call shenanigans. It’s unacceptable to undermine a powerful woman like Abramson with backwards sexist language.

Abramson did a lot of good for women in journalism during her time as executive editor. She hired enough great women to achieve gender equity among the paper’s highest ranking editors, and reportedly was considering bringing over The Guardian’s Janine Gibson for a co-managing editor position when she was dismissed. During Abramson’s years, many of the paper’s biggest stories were written and edited by women. Even her supporters aren’t claiming she was a perfect manager. Still she kicked ass and took names running the most respected paper in the country and she was a force of good for women in the workplace. I’m looking forward to seeing what good she does for journalism and women at her next job.

(Photo via New York Magazine)

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