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Beyond the Headlines: Why Jill Abramson Matters

The business world has been abuzz recently with the shocking news that two of journalism’s most respected and high-powered women, Jill Abramson of the New York Times and Natalie Nougayrede of Le Monde, were vacating their positions as executive editors amidst controversy attributed to their gender and supposed gender perceptions, which may have played a part in their job performance reviews.

We may never know “the truth” about why these women were pushed out of the top spots at two of the journalism industry’s most venerable — and until recently completely male-dominated — institutions. But what we do know is how the sudden lack of females in these top spots will affect the women in more junior positions, now and in the future, captured perfectly in a piece by Amanda Hess for Slate.com with the subtext, “The media called [Abramson] ‘brusque’ and ‘polarizing.’ But to young women at the New York Times, Jill Abramson was everything.”

Hess goes on to capture the reality that:

Abramson’s presence allowed a new generation of women at the Times to begin to see a possible future in leadership at the paper . . . For some staffers, her contributions only came into focus when she disappeared from the masthead. Shortly after Abramson was appointed executive editor, another bright female journalist graduated from college. When she landed a job at the Times, ‘I never thought to be surprised that our editor was a woman. But in retrospect, it meant a lot to be able to look at the woman at the head of the table . . . and take for granted that it could someday be one of my peers sitting there.’ This sounds so simple, but for women who are just mounting the career ladder, it can be just enough to keep them climbing. ‘I'm not claiming she changed the way I approached my stories or my career, besides giving me a little extra subconscious confidence,’ the staffer says.

As reports like The Atlantic think piece The Confidence Gap and Bentley’s own PreparedU study show, confidence and encouragement can be the deciding factor between whether or not a woman will succeed in her business career. Confidence can matter as much as, or more so than, competence. More than half (55 percent) of respondents in Bentley’s study said that women don’t have enough encouragement to enter the business world, and a little less than half (49 percent) feel that women don’t have enough mentors once they arrive in the business world as compared to men. The study also showed that more than a quarter (27 percent) of the women surveyed didn’t believe they had the same skills needed to succeed in the business world as men, despite the fact that more than half of corporate recruiters (57 percent) think women are better job candidates right out of college compared to their male peers.

So, where do we go from here? For women already established in their business careers, I keep coming back to these closing remarks from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at our Women in the Workplace Initiative here at Bentley back in March:

“You can't just take pride and pleasure in your legacy as a successful woman in business,” Governor Patrick said, “Pass it on. It doesn’t mean a thing to be the first in your senior position unless there’s a second, and there are a lot of seconds waiting to be discovered.”

Women are in a unique position at this point in history. We’ve accomplished a lot — like Abramson shattering the glass ceiling at the Times — but there’s still so much more we can accomplish by working to bring others up along with us.

To follow the entire story surrounding Jill Abramson and the New York Times, check out this comprehensive reader put together by Women Action in Media

Melissa Massello is a freelance writer.

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Jill Abramson

Women must accept that they can be fired for the same reasons men can be fired. Likeability is the new competence…if you are not likable it may be your fault. Everyone must be able to work with other people, male or female.