Was Abramson Fired Because She Tried to Close Her Pay Gap?

Jill Abramson's termination from the top job at the New York Times is not only making the news, it's making the rounds of activist circles who hear in the Times' explanations for Abramson's firing the dog whistles of gender discrimination. 

Even more disturbing than the allegation that Abramson was fired because she was too "pushy" is the suggestion that she was terminated because she asked for a raise to bring her pay into line with that of her predecessors.  

As Ken Auletta wrote in Why Jill Abramson Was Fired, theTimes' first female executive editor  had asked "several weeks ago" that her pay be brought into line with her predecessors.  According to Auletta,

“She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.

Auletta was "told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap . . . was only closed after she complained," and by a third source that she “found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”

Sexist Negotiation Advice?

The Abramson termination comes only weeks after the Times published a story that some women's groups are now alleging offered women "sexist, outdated tips on how to ask for a raise."

According to an email that arrived in my in-box this morning, the article quoted negotiation experts advising women to 

 take a more calibrated approach [to career negotiations] whether in asking for a higher salary or a new position. Otherwise, they can risk being perceived as overly demanding and unlikable, experts say, and their requests can backfire.

We here at She Negotiates are familiar with the social science research upon which the the Times advice was based. Like it or not, women do face social sanctions (sometimes called micro-aggressions) when they step outside their gender roles by being self- rather than other-serving.

Gender bias is real and it continues to diminish women's wages and limit their opportunities in all professions, businesses and sectors. Only when we understand how that bias hurts our pocketbooks and how it might be countered are we at choice in our individual careers. Whether we act like fawning Uncle Toms or crusading Joans of Arc in response to these barriers is up to each individual woman.

The duties of the body politic in response to the corrosive effects of gender bias is an entirely different matter.  Collectively, we must continue to fight for systemic change to address inequities caused by workplaces designed by men for men at a time when there was a sharp division between the domestic and the commercial spheres. 

One partial fix for this structural problem remains stalled in a paralyzed national legislature -- the Paycheck Fairness Act. Much, much more is needed, some of it by way of state and federal child care and parental leave laws, some by way of internal corporate policies motivated by enlightened self-interest and some of it by the natural evolution of the workplace as more and more women ascend to roles of leadership. 

We are active in all these arenas and will continue to keep our readers in the loop when we learn of opportunities for action. In the meantime, you might enjoy reading my piece on the type of negotiation advice that appeared in the Times so few weeks before the Abramson contretemps shook up its management, Must Women Negotiate Like Uncle Toms?   

For the Times most recent coverage of Abramson's departure, click here.