Commentary

Would 'Jack' Abramson Have Been Treated Any Differently?

There is nothing that stirs the passions of the Great Eastern Establishment Press more than when one of their own gets sacked. You would be hard-pressed to think of another individual in the U.S. whose firing could have generated more coverage and opinion than when The New York Times unceremoniously cashiered Jill Abramson. The verbiage volume probably doubled on speculation that it all came about because she is a woman.

After all, this is the "Lean In" year, when the battle to dismantle stereotypes of women as business leaders has been renewed with unprecedented vigor. That it is still even an issue is shameful enough, but it seems to define every coming and going of a woman in power.

Like you, I have read hours of speculation about why the Times dumped Abramson -- and despite leaks, follow-up staff memos and rampant speculation, the closest we can seem to come to the truth is that she lost the confidence of her boss Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the paper’s publisher. Yes, lots of folks apparently were in his face about Abramson's "management style," saying she could be sharp, unpredictable, peremptory and erratic: traits that characterize the "management style" of many business leaders of both genders.

For all her universally praised ability as a news editor, perhaps Abramson did not hone the fine art of managing up, making  certain that she was on the same page as Sulzberger. I think many folks in power feel like their hiring mandate gives them more latitude to maneuver without air cover or approval than they really have. They know they have unique talents that brought them to the pinnacle of their profession, which gives them a little more freedom (and protection) in how they administer their operations.  Well, only up to a point.

In my career I had the unfortunate opportunity to work with a couple of top managers who specialized in making the lives of their reports miserable -- Katharine Graham at the Washington Post and Dick Snyder at Simon & Schuster. History can judge their effectiveness at running their respective businesses, but I can assure you that in each case I was witness to, and at times a victim of, "management styles" that probably made Jill Abramson on her worst day look like a Girl Scout. I could not attribute a female or male nature to Graham’s or Snyder’s tirades and humiliations; they simply loved abusing their power.

Which brings me back to the Abramson event. Isn't it entirely possible that she lost her job because management felt she was somehow not up to the task? That it had nothing to do with gender? Sulzberger certainly knew the shitstorm he was kicking up by firing such a high-level woman, but apparently felt he had to do it.

You can argue all day long that women are held to different standards than men when being judged, especially by a male superior who is undoubtedly part of the Old Boy's Club.  But I am not convinced that every time a senior-level women gets the ax, it is because of her gender.

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2 comments about "Would 'Jack' Abramson Have Been Treated Any Differently?".
  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media , May 22, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.
    I am not entirely sure why this story is important at all. The TIMES is only read in a small section of Manhattan and by news people. To those of us who only read the NY POST, it is a big WHO CARES? I didn't even know the times had an editor until the Post started carrying this story.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 22, 2014 at 5:40 p.m.
    It was the salary difference and she didn't find out about it until it was too late (obviously not a background in shark sales) which led to the exposure. If there is one roach, there are a lot more and that opened the door. If you want to know whether she was doing a good job or not regardless of management style, then ask all of the employees at all levels.