“Abrasive” Abe Rosenthal Got Plaudits; “Abrasive” Jill Abramson Got the Sack
The firing of Jill Abramson from her position as Executive Editor of The New York Times once again focuses the spotlight on the treatment of strong, high-ranking women managers.Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. , the Times’ publisher, issued a statement claiming that Abramson’s removal had nothing to do with gender. Instead, he said, it was due to issues with her “management in the newsroom.” He cited a pattern of behavior that included “arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”But reports by other news outlets New Yorker, NYMag, Politico, on the reasons underlying Abramson’s dismissal suggest that it may, indeed, have had a lot to do with gender.People at the Times accused her of being brusque, abrasive, condescending, unapproachable, and uncaring. The question is whether a male Executive Editor who behaved that way (and had all of Abramson’s considerable talents) would have been fired.When men are abrupt, aggressive, distant, and thoughtless, they’re often given a pass as strong, bold, determined leaders. But when women aren’t nice and nurturing, they’re usually rejected as “bitches.”I can’t tell you how many time I’ve encountered this double standard in my own life. When I’ve acted in ways that I think would have been accepted in a man — like being blunt or definitive or assertive — I’ve been denounced as too pushy, too domineering, too aggressive. Sometimes it seems as if we women can’t win, because if we take the opposite path and don’t assert ourselves, we’re accused of being too meek and passive and of failing to “lean in.”I suspect that the bias against assertive women is more often unconscious than conscious. But that makes it more insidious. How do you go about go about overcoming your hidden prejudices when you don’t even realize you have them?To measure unconscious bias, psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington have created a test, called the Implicit Association Test, that reveals one’s hidden assumptions about gender, race and sexual orientation.I took the test and discovered, to my surprise and chagrin, that I associate career and wealth with men but not with women, and I associate women with family. I could have sworn that I didn’t have such a bias. But my unconscious told another story.Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. probably swears that he doesn’t discriminate against tough, aggressive women managers, but I’d bet my life that he does so unconsciously.Some New York Times history gives credence to that contention.Abe Rosenthal was the top editor of The New York Times for 17 years. The Times own obituary of Rosenberg described him as an “abrasive man of dark moods and mercurial temperament,” who had a “combative and imperious style” and was known for “driving his staffs relentlessly.” Yet there was never any move to force him out. Instead, when he retired Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The Times, declared that Rosenthal’s “record of performance as executive editor of The Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism.“The abrasive Rosenthal got plaudits. The abrasive Abramson got the sack.