Jill Abramson And The Pervasive Risks Of Demanding Equal Pay

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On Wednesday, the New York Times abruptly announced that Executive Editor Jill Abramson would be leaving the role, to be replaced by Dean Baquet. The paper didn’t share details as to why the change was made so quickly and without warning, with its own story on the change up at first saying the reasons “were not immediately clear.”

But shortly after, Ken Auletta at the New Yorker reported that the incident may have been set off by the fact that Abramson found out she was being paid less than men around her and asked top management about the disparities. According to his anonymous sources, she found out that not only was she was getting less in pay and benefits than Bill Keller, previous executive editor of the paper, in two different jobs where she replaced him, but that she made less than a man who reported to her when she was managing editor. While this may not have been the direct cause of her dismissal, it seems that when she had her lawyer look into the disparities top management thought she was “pushy” and it set off other tensions in the newsroom. Other reports are that many who worked with her thought she was “brusque to the point of rudeness.”

It’s not clear what role this really did play in Tuesday’s announcement, nor even if it’s true. A spokesperson told Politico that her “compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller’s” and the lower pension benefits were because of her shorter tenure at the paper. But the same spokesperson told Business Insider that her pay “was not meaningfully less” and David Folkenflik has confirmed that Abramson did bring up unequal pay with management.

Many women who reach the top are still paid less than their male peers. The highest paid female executives at S&P 500 companies still make 18 percent less than the men in these roles, on average. For example, Heather Bresch, CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan, makes about a third less than average CEO pay in her sector, and Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison makes about a quarter less.

Other high-profile female executives have found out that they’re making less than the men around them this year. This year, Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, will make less than half of what her outgoing male predecessor made — $2.8 million compared to $7.3 million — and less than what he will be paid as a senior advisor after he’s gone. This is despite her 30 plus years of experience at the company and the fact that the man before her had no car industry experience. The company has noted that her long-term compensation represents a 60 percent increase over his, but she will only see that money if she stays with the company for a certain period of time.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, experienced the other half of what Abramson may have gone through: being paid less than a man who reports to you. She made $62 million over the same period that the male COO of the company, who worked under her, made $96 million. Worse, he was fired in January. Part of his pay total is a severance package that got a bump from the company’s stock price when he left, and as with Barra, Mayer stands to see more long-term compensation. But the differences are still stark.

Being fired is also a common experience among women who reach the top. The few women who make it to the chief executive suit are more likely than men to be forced out. Abramson’s experience is again typical: part of the problem seems to be that women tend to be brought in from the outside (Abramson spent most of her previous career at the Wall Street Journal) and they may only be brought in to clean up when things are getting messy. This phenomenon is called the glass cliff: Multiple studies have found that women are more likely to be brought into leadership roles when the outlook is bad. Abramson joined the Times in 2011, just as newspaper advertising revenue was beginning to tank.

Baquet, who is replacing Abramson, is the first black person to take on the top editorial role. People of color also experience the glass cliff and pay inequities, so his appointment breaks another important barrier, even if it comes on the heels of controversy.


In a memo to New York Times staff, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, denied that Abramson had been paid less than Keller. “It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors,” he wrote. “Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors. In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Killer, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010. It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.”

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On Thursday evening, Auletta reported on base salary numbers he had obtained that showed Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, while Keller made $559,000 that year. Her salary was first raised to $503,000 and then raised to $525,000 after she complained about the disparity, he reports. Her $398,000 salary as managing editor was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, who was below her in the hierarchy. He also reported that she made $100,000 less as Washington bureau chief than her male successor. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Abramson’s pay was “broadly comparable” to the latter two men and that total compensation should be taken into account, including bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives.

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