The New York Times, one of the biggest newspapers in the world, is embroiled in a scandal involving its recently fired executive editor, Jill Abramson, who may have, or may have not, been paid less than her male predecessor.
I say may or may not because the real story is murky. The publisher of the newspaper Arthur Sulzberger claimed in a memo that she actually made more: “In 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package, was more than 10% higher than that of her predecessor…”
He doesn’t talk about whether Abramson was hired at a lower rate when she was brought on.
Media reports say Abramson was indeed paid less, and a photo of her in boxing gloves has many speculating that she’s ready to fight back.
This story shines light on how difficult it is to prove gender pay bias, even in a situation involving a high level executive and a newspaper that touts itself as wanting to expose the truth.
Witness the way a bastion of journalism brushes aside claims of gender bias. In a column by New York Times media columnist David Carr filled with reporting pointing to how tough Abramson was to work with he includes a throw away line about possible pay inequity. He writes:
(All the talk about pay inequity and her lawyering up to get her due was a sideshow in my estimation.)
He includes no reporting, or numbers, on her pay or how it compared to the many men that came before her.
Why? Because pay equity claims are difficult to expose given all the smoke and mirrors that can surround pay, especially executive pay. (And so many go unreported thanks to a mentality in the country that we we keep our pay secret.)
Among the claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2013, only 8.4% led to some sort of settlement.
This includes employees who actually stepped up and filed complaints against their employers for pay inequity. Who knows how many women end up fired for asking for more money. It’s pretty easy to label women bitchy as an excuse for kicking them out the door. The top brass at the Times has made it clear she didn’t play nice with her colleagues.
No matter what happened at the newspaper, the firing may spark renewed interest in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would give enforcement teeth to existing laws that have done little to shrink the pay gap between men and women, which the Department of Labor says is 23 cents on the dollar.
Hopefully, the truth of what happened at the Times will come to light, and if gender played a role in how much the ousted editor took home in her paycheck, the Grey Lady better start thinking green ladies from now on.