Finding the truth in the he-said, she-said flap over the New York Times’ firing of its executive editor, Jill Abramson, is like trying to sort marbles in a wok.
Women’s rights advocates are pointing to it as evidence of deep seated sexism at even the highest levels of journalism. Conservatives are gleefully calling out the juicy hypocrisy of one of the most liberal of institutions sacking its top woman for possibly being “too pushy.” Working-class women are wondering where they can find a job and be discriminated against for $525,000 a year, Abramson’s reported salary. And the public is rubbing its eyes and asking, “What?”
I have no doubt women face pay and other discrimination at all levels of employment. I also have no doubt female bosses can be just as incompetent, egomaniacal, cold and downright nasty as male bosses.
The two points of contention that keep popping up are compensation and temperament, both hot potatoes in the equality debate.
The first, equal compensation should be cut and dry. Either Abramson was paid the same as her predecessor for the same job or not. But at these stratospheric levels it doesn’t work the same as on the grill line at McDonald’s.
It might be the same job, but different people bring to it vastly different qualifications, experience and pay history, as was the case here. Also, the economic circumstances of the employer may change, again as was the case here.
But then might the same subconscious cultural instincts that affect men’s perceptions of temperament also inform their perceptions of what experiences or qualifications look dazzling reading another man’s résumé versus reading a similar woman’s résumé?
Temperament is even a tougher go. Much of the defense of Abramson’s behavior in the newsroom excused her demanding, cajoling personality as typical of the way things are done whether by women or men editors. But that in itself is a stereotype. If that’s the only definition of newsroom leadership then women will always be at a disadvantage. Like it or not, men can get away with that behavior much more easily than women.
Re-educating men is a long shot at best. Rather, focusing on accomplishments instead of behavior opens up a wealth of possibilities for women executives who are often better at soothing, nuancing and nudging than men and be perfect pitch in many newsrooms as well as executive suites staffed with overinflated, easily wounded egos. That’s not saying some women can’t go head-to-head with men and be quite successful doing so.
Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.