I have found myself spellbound by the story of Jill Abramson’s abrupt dismissal from the Executive Editor perch at The New York Times.
What the hell happened there? I’m like Nancy Drew on the Orient Express trying to figure out where Colonel Mustard was with the lead pipe on the day in question.
Was she a totally horrible boss? A bully, even? Was she breaking the glass ceiling in some weird way by succeeding at getting fired just the way a guy would have been? But then: Had she really been paid less than her male predecessor? Did she ruffle feathers when she asked for more?
As the story continued to unfold, I remembered my most popular blog post, The Roots Of Shame. That piece, at the moment, has more Facebook likes and links to Twitter and LinkedIn than anything I’ve ever written.
I guess I hit a nerve.
In the blog post, I refer to a viral TED talk from Brene Brown (actually, her second viral TED talk) which is what I thought about in terms of Abramson’s firing:
Now, allow me to pull in some other interesting data for your perusal. According to research at Boston College, the accepted societal norms for women are to be:
Nice. Thin. Modest. Use all available resources on her appearance.
Men are supposed to:
Be in emotional control. Put work first. Pursue status. Be violent.
It began to dawn on me that maybe the problem was that Jill Abramson was few of the things society thinks women should be and a lot of the things we think men should be.
I mean, her performance as Executive Editor was pretty amazing. As Frida Ghitis wrote on CNN.com: “By objective standards, Abramson did a fine job. The paper won eight Pulitzer prizes during her brief tenure, with top-notch reporting and investigative journalism. Signups for digital access among readers increased. The company stock doubled during her tenure, performing better than the rest of the stock market.”
Not too shabby.
But then NYT Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said this in a statement:
“I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues. I discussed these issues with Jill … several times and warned her that … she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. … It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.”
As a woman, I realize I am supposed to be modest – but I just have to say: Someone should have gotten Jill Abramson an executive coach and I know just the person they should have hired.
Hold up. Does that immodesty make you uncomfortable? Me – a girl – claiming baldly that I am great at what I do and in the class of executive coaches who are qualified to coach executives at Jill Abramson’s level?
It’s kind of a dude thing to do, claiming status like that. How’s it feel to you?
Check right now – are you surprised-startled-upset when someone behaves against type? When someone breaks “the rules”?
If you are, I completely understand and I’m proud of you for examining it. Hope your mind is opening.
Because every time a man behaves in a classically female way – let’s say he’s unexpectedly nice to someone and bestows credit elsewhere – he expands what it means to be a man.
Same thing for women. Any time one of us dares to stand up and claim our expertise, we make it a little easier for every other woman to do the same thing.
And maybe one of these days – hopefully in my lifetime – we’ll no longer penalize or ostracize a woman who’s too “masculine” or a man who’s too “feminine”.
We’ll just recognize people who are good at what they do and let them do their damn job.