Republicans have been blocking efforts to codify equal pay for equal work into law as well as bills to make it illegal to retaliate against employees who brings up gender based pay discrepancies. According to the GOP, such actions never really happen, unequal pay is never just based on the sex of the employee, and surely no one would ever be punished if she learned that there was in fact a pay gap and tried to see the issue addressed.
Tell that to Jill Abramson.
Abramson was the first female editor in chief for the New York Times, one of the most prestigious dailies in the nation. Now, she is unemployed and, according to most reports, her dismissal was related to her having the gall to ask for compensation equal to that of her male predecessor. “Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs,” writes the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, who then says that the pay discrepancy was adjusted, but that it played into the belief that Abramson was “pushy” and “difficult to get along with.”
As Fivethirtyeight reports, there’s long been a standing pay gap in the news rooms, and that Abramson fell into it isn’t surprising. What is disturbing is how easily such a gap can remain since, when a woman complains, she can then be fired over other alleged personality conflicts that paint her as a bad boss or employee, rather than because she directly questioned the inequity of her compensation package. What originally can be seen by top execs as a powerful leader with a strong hand and a no-nonsense approach to a workplace is suddenly someone divisive, or not a team player, or a variety of unflattering descriptors that previously were assets but now become liabilities.
The narrative of the “pushy, hard to get along with” woman exec when it comes to Abramson’s dismissal solves two problems to those who continue to support gender inequity. It labels Abramson with a warning flag to ensure that other media companies who might hire her understand that she is a “problem” they would have to deal with (as well as reduce any compensation package at a new outlet, since they’ve labeled her as damaged goods) and it serves as a threat to others who might complain about their own pay gap that there is always a way to fire you, and that speaking out will ruin your career, too.
If there was any doubt that this was exactly the New York Times’s management’s intent, the way she was effectively marched from the office without any good bye, chance to talk to the staff, or even warning, makes it clear that this was an attempt to serve as a warning to others.
“Abramson’s firing was among the most harsh and humiliating I’ve ever seen play out in the media’s recent history,” wrote Rebecca Traister. “Within minutes of the editorial meeting at which the turnover was announced, Abramson’s name had been scrubbed from the masthead of the paper she’s run for the past two and a half years. A Times spokeswoman told Buzzfeed that Abramson would not be remaining with the paper in any professional capacity and would have no involvement in the transition of power. [Publisher and chairman Aurthur Sulzberger, Jr.] made no pretense that this was anything other than an unceremonious dump. When staffers reportedly expressed concern that Abramson’s firing would be a blow to women, he helpfully explained that that women in top management positions are just as likely to be fired as men in top management positions.”
This trend isn’t just a media thing, of course. In St. Louis, a trial over equal pay in the Anheuser-Busch brewing company has been playing out as Francine Katz, formerly the top female executive, is suing for millions in missing compensation. According to claims, she was making $1 million per year in her job for the corporation, just one quarter of what her male predecessor was earning in the same position. In retaliation, the Busch family is calling her “ungrateful,” as if she should be happy that she earned a big salary in the first place, even if it wasn’t equal.
If you remain silent, you earn less. If you speak out, you are blacklisted, and then earn less. This is why we need real pay equity laws. It simply will not change on its own.
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