220px-Jill_Abramson_2012For women who’ve spent decades fighting—first for their place in the workforce, then for equitable treatment and pay—the announcement Monday that The New York Times was firing the first woman to hold the position of executive editor carried many echoes of the old double standard.

When Jill Abramson became executive editor in 2011, she said the promotion was like “ascending to Valhalla.” The post made her a powerful person on the global stage, and women celebrated the shattering of what had been a particularly thick glass ceiling.

But her ousting from the job after less than three years has commentators saying she was viewed as “pushy,” “abrasive,” and “condescending.” Ken Auletta of The New Yorker reported that when Abramson discovered recently that her compensation package was less than that of Bill Keller, her predecessor in the top newsroom job,she demanded an increase, which “may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.” (The Times told Politico that Abramson’s “total compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect . . .  Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009.”

Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Male leaders are perceived as taking charge, female leaders are seen as being bitchy. A Gallup poll in November found: “If Americans were taking a new job and had their choice of a boss, they would prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35 percent to 23 percent, although 4 in 10 would have no preference.”

In April 2013, only about a year and a half into Abramson’s tenure, Politico wrote: “In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom. More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with. But, as the article pointed out, “every New York Times executive editor has demonstrated the ability to cut someone off at the knees.”

The compensation issue, if the news reports are accurate, is particularly disappointing because The New York Times has long stood for civil rights, women’s rights, and equality. In an editorial on “comparable worth” published on Jan. 2, 1985The Times wrote: “Deliberate discrimination between men and women by a single employer is impermissible.

Was Abramson a perfect executive editor? Probably not. Was she given less leeway than her male predecessors? Probably.

She’s not the first executive editor to be forced out. Howell Raines, an executive editor who was also criticized by staff members for having a brusque management style, left the job in 2003. Of course, it took a plagiarism scandal to unseat him.

In making the announcement of Abramson’s firing, Arthur Sulzburger Jr., publisher and chairman of The New York Times, told the staff that she had done an “outstanding job in preserving and extending the level of excellence of our news report,” according to the Daily Beast website.

“She’s an accomplished journalist who contributed mightily to our reputation as the world’s most important news provider,” he said.

So the playing field is not yet level. But as women, even given the inequities, we need to keep playing.


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