Friday, May 23, 2014

Dean Baquet Replaces Jill Abramson At New York Times

You may have heard that the New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. recently fired Executive Editor Jill Abramson and replaced her with Managing Editor Dean Baquet. Baquet becomes the first Black person to serve as Executive Editor. Abramson's dismissal was met with wails and shrieks from many prominent women in the media who were immediately either convinced or worried that Abramson's termination was based in sexism. I waited to write on this because (1) I wanted to see if any other information about this termination arose (it did), (2) I was very busy at my own job and lacked the time to write and (3) I wasn't convinced that it was something about which I had enough interest to write. But I got a little amused and even annoyed by some of the hysterical hyperventilating happening around this incident. So now that the crisis has hopefully dissipated in my own workplace and my job is safe, I have a little time to share some thoughts about what I now think of as a much hyped non-event.

When your former co-workers give a standing ovation to the person who replaced you it could indicate that you weren't super well liked. I've had both men and women bosses. If you're younger than 60 and have worked any serious amount of time in corporate America you probably have also had bosses of both genders. I wouldn't dare speak for you but I've had women bosses that I admired, respected, and emulated and those that I despised and hated with the white hot intensity of one thousand supernova. And the same is true of male bosses to whom I've reported. Some were decent. Some were middling. Some were superstars. Some were incompetent. Some were downright malevolent and/or bigoted.

In a former workplace I once worked with a black contractor who was a few years older than me. Our company was flexible on start time, especially for direct hires, but expected everyone to put at least 8-9 hrs each day. Most us started between 6 AM and 8 AM. 8:30~9 AM start times were considered late and would cause some raised eyebrows or snide comments. On a good day this fellow would not arrive until 9:30 AM. 10 AM wasn't uncommon. He never stayed late. His tardiness caused problems with management and resentment with peers. One morning he wasn't around when a business group manager needed him for something important. And when he did arrive he ignored her requests. Well that was a mistake. She took a personal interest in documenting his late arrivals and bad mouthing him to her fellow managers and supervisors. Shortly afterwards the man was fired. There is a stereotype of black men being incompetent or tardy. I've dealt with it. But if you really are consistently tardy and get fired you or your friends can't whine about stereotypes. That stuff is on you. Similarly if (and I say if because nobody outside of a few people at the NYT really knows what happened) Abramson really was an abrasive and/or ineffective leader then terminating her was just and fair. If not then I expect a lawsuit will result and we'll be able to read about it in the papers. It's important to remember though that men get fired for among other reasons, being abrasive, including one of Abramson's predecessors at the NYT. Just because someone gets fired for what some people might deem stereotypical reasons, doesn't automatically mean that the firing was unjustified. There actually are a few harsh unpleasant women in this world. According to the NYT, contrary to what some of Abramson's media partisans claimed about her unequal pay, Abramson's compensation was comparable to or exceeded that of her male predecessor.
On Saturday, Mr. Sulzberger said, as he did in an earlier public statement, that Ms. Abramson’s pay package in her last year in the job was 10 percent higher than Mr. Keller’s. “Equal pay for women is an important issue in our country — one that The New York Times often covers,” Mr. Sulzberger wrote. “But it doesn’t help to advance the goal of pay equality to cite the case of a female executive whose compensation was not in fact unequal.”
Until Saturday, Mr. Sulzberger had said only that her removal was due to “an issue with management in the newsroom.” His new statement 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.” Mr. Sulzberger said that he had wanted Ms. Abramson to succeed and had discussed these problems with her. But he ultimately concluded that “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.” The decision to replace her, he said, was “for reasons having nothing to do with pay or gender.”
Of course what else will a boss say about someone whom he just fired, right? So I wouldn't necessarily take everything Sulzberger says as gospel. Still it is a reminder that there are usually at least two sides to each story. It's not as cut and dry that male bosses get away with acting unpleasantly and female ones don't. If you are a boss at any level your job includes overseeing and evaluating people's work. You must let them know where they're doing great work, where they could improve and occasionally even unilaterally give them opportunities to succeed elsewhere. But it's also just as important if not more so to get people who want to work for you and with you. Because sometimes if your perceived management style failings are greater than the benefit the company obtains from keeping you on, your actions and attitude could be helping you to dig your own grave, figuratively speaking of course.

I am just dismayed at the rush of judgment by so many people to assume that Abramson's firing was a case of sexism. From what I can tell Abramson tried to dilute Baquet's power and role by bringing in another woman to take away some of his workplace responsibilities. Not working at the NYT I couldn't say if this was justified or not. But I do know, particularly in hyper competitive workplaces, taking work from someone is often seen and meant as a precursor to a less than excellent performance review or worse as cover for pushing them out. There's a HUGE difference between you going to your boss and requesting that s/he hire someone because you're doing the work of five people and your boss deciding on his/her own that the work you're doing isn't quite up to par and you need help. Given that Baquet was a previous finalist for Abramson's job he apparently saw her move as a preemptive strike and responded accordingly. Sulzberger had other issues with Abramson and that was that. Now it's true that Abramson has every right to hire as she sees fit. But let's reverse the genders/management roles. Say Baquet is Executive Editor. If he had tried to hire another Black man to help Abramson do her job the same people complaining about Abramson's firing would be pointing to Baquet's aborted hiring attempt as proof of sexism and the old boy's network. They would be cheering Baquet's firing as a blow against sexism and for transparency.

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

There is racism, sexism and every other ism in the world. That's obvious.

But before we lead a lynch mob on behalf of Abramson, who apparently was not underpaid, let's find out what's going on first. It sounds to me like she made a power play and lost. It happens. It happens to men all the time. Now that more women are in high paid, high stress positions, it will happen to them as well. That's my take anyway, with the evidence I see.

What are your thoughts?
Do you think that abrasive women are still treated differently than abrasive men?
If you work for other people what qualities do you look for in a boss?
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