It's not hard to see why Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times' new Public Editor, reportedly beat out 15 different finalists to land the powerful position.
"The fact that I'm a working journalist immersed in the daily tough decisions that news organizations are making was important," Sullivan, who has 32 years at the Buffalo News under her belt, told the Huffington Post. She also said her role in building the Buffalo News' website and her "great interest in turning this position from a strictly, or mostly, print column, to a daily digital conversation with readers" made her a coveted candidate.
None of those qualifications have anything to do with the fact that Sullivan is a woman, but that hasn't stopped reporters from asking her questions about how her gender will influence the way she'll act as a liaison between the Times and its readers, especially since she'll be the first woman to hold the position. But instead of dismissing gender-related questions, as new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has repeatedly done in the past, Sullivan went above and beyond by expanding on the issue in a blog post called "As editor (or public editor), does being a woman matter? Of course."
"Over the past couple of days...a few interviewers have gingerly raised the question of gender," she writes. "Essentially, they're asking this: Will I approach the job differently because I'm a woman?" Sullivan explains that she'll bring "everything" she is to her new job, not just her gender:
...I was raised a Roman Catholic; I grew up in a steel town; I am the daughter of a lawyer and a fashion buyer; I went to college in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. So I carry all of this with me.
But instead of claiming to be "gender blind" like Mayer, Sullivan explains how her experiences as a woman — a trailblazing woman, at that — have impacted her career:
I also bring my experiences as a woman. Since my first child was born in 1988, I've been a working mother; that matters. I was the first woman in newsroom management at The Buffalo News; that matters. I know what it means to be a sister, a wife, an aunt. Even today, I'm still the mother of a teenager; that always matters.
It's possible to care about important issues that are typically segregated into "women's rights" without having a specifically gender-driven agenda, she continues:
But it doesn't drive everything I do. I didn't come into my current job as editor of The Buffalo News with a gender-driven agenda and I won't do that when I start working at the Times. At the same time, I certainly care about such issues as pay equality, sexual harassment, and child care. I do like to see women represented in the news media — in images, in quotes, in stories — and I know that they are often underrepresented. When my close friend Liz Kahn, at that time assistant managing editor for features, developed a new Life & Arts section column called "Women's Voices" that runs every Saturday, I was delighted. And I've sometimes been exasperated that the paper's front page, on a particular day or series of days, has not featured a single photo of a woman, even in a teaser.
Marissa Mayer, take note: that's how you recognize the importance of being the first woman to hold a high-ranking position without worrying that you'll be defined as a woman before an editor or a CEO. It must be frustrating for Sullivan to have to explain time after time that caring about equal opportunity and issues like sexual harassment and child care doesn't make her "biased," but it's awesome that she's able to acknowledge that we still live in a world where mentioning it is necessary and her career is noteworthy.
(Image via Margaret Sullivan's Twitter)