Jill Abramson’s dismissal reignites equal pay discussion

Wednesday marked Jill Abramson's abrupt dismissal from her post as executive editor of the New York Times. Here is a brief overview of what you should know about her career. (Sarah Parnass and Jacques Ledbetter/The Washington Post)

 

Well that didn’t take long. Just a short time after it was announced Jill Abramson was leaving the top perch at the newspaper she loved almost beyond reason (hey, I don’t have a Washington Post tatt, and sorry, Bezos, I’m not getting one), the reports started that perhaps she was canned because she discovered — and, oh my goodness, complained about — the fact she wasn’t getting the same compensation as her white male predecessor.

“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,” wrote Ken Auletta of the New Yorker.

Boom. There’s the narrative: Abramson, the first female executive editor at the Times, found out she was paid less than a male counterpart and broke the rule, that rule, and confronted top brass about it.

She was too pushy.

From there tumbled the conversation we’ve all heard and read a million times: If that were a man pushing, he wouldn’t be considered pushy, he’d be considered a good negotiator. Smart. Confident.

There is surely nuance to the new Abramson narrative that we don’t know a thing about. Or, actually, we know some.

But the general theme about her being punished for demanding more pay started a conversation that rarely stops. Women are paid less. Let’s fight for equal pay for equal work.

 

 

Women are expected, even when they are in leadership positions, to just act differently. When they don’t, they are called unapproachable.

Back when I was writing a workplace column, I wrote about a female executive who was told she wasn’t approachable enough. She was given a career coach to learn how to win over staff. Among the things she changed: She put pictures of her baby in her office so people could see her as a softer person. Go ahead. Join the chorus. (I’ll help: “Would they have told a man to do that?”)

Is that the world that Abramson faced? I don’t know, and no outsiders do.

But what has happened because of this departure is we get yet another day of conversation about the issues women face in the workplace. And in political office. And board rooms. They are paid less, given fewer promotions and it’s held against them when they act like a man.

And that conversation rolled along, even though we can’t be sure why she was fired. The narrative is buzzing around us, despite the fact that the Times said her pay is “directly comparable” to Abramson’s predecessor, Bill Keller’s. The news is hashtag heaven, despite many stories about differences she has had with management for a long time.

So was she too hard on people? Or was she ousted because the words and actions that would be de rigueur from a man were coming from a woman? Someone who is supposed to be soft. Someone who — dare I say it — should lean back a little while the rest of the table leans in and pounds fists.

Intellectually, I’m sure Abramson knows there is life beyond the Times. But I’m not sure she and her T tattoo were ready to discover it just yet. And I’m not sure the women who were watching her and celebrated her appointment less than just three years ago were ready either.

Amy Joyce is the editor and a writer for On Parenting.
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