Jill Abramson on Helping Women, Dealing With Sexism and Getting Fired

Jill Abramson — the former executive editor of the New York Times whose unceremonious firing earlier this year was rumored to have been caused by a dispute over salary inequalities (and/or just plain ol' insidious sexism) — has given her first magazine interview since losing her job. It is with Cosmopolitan.

Contained within the article preview on Cosmo.com are several inspirational/badass/tender nuggets. Abramson tactfully dances around the question of whether she thinks internalized sexism — the idea that she was too "brusque" as a woman-editor — contributed to her termination:

What [New York Times publisher] Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has said publicly is that he had problems with my management style. The whole issue of how women's management styles are viewed is an incredibly interesting subject. In some ways, the reaction was much bigger when Politico ran this hatchet job on me [the profile by Dylan Byers called her "stubborn," "condescending," and "uncaring"].

She also discusses the fact that she cried after said hatchet job (a fact that some people had difficulty processing):

I did cry after reading [that] article about me in Politico. I don't regret admitting I did. The reason I wanted to do this interview is that I think it is important to try to speak very candidly to young women. The most important advice I would still give — and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved — you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don't regret sharing that.

Aaaaaand she talks about Leaning In, which is funny because, you know, her specific case has been held up as an (rumored!) example of why Leaning In doesn't really work:

My advice on getting a raise is what everybody's advice is: to become a confident negotiator, but that is so hard. My admiration for women who are good at that is unbridled. Women in general have a harder time talking about money with their bosses. It's part of that syndrome, like you're so lucky just to have the job. Sheryl Sandberg has written very brilliantly about this in Lean In and in her TED talk. Men never chalk up their success to luck but women often do.

She's also not at all ashamed that she was fired from her position:


Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I've said it about 20 times, and it's not. I was in fact insistent that that be publicly clear because I was not ashamed of that. And I don't think young women — it's hard, I know — they should not feel stigmatized if they are fired. Especially in this economy people are fired right and left for arbitrary reasons, and there are sometimes forces beyond your control.

My favorite parts, though, are the quotes in which she talks about women supporting each other. "If there is a silver lining [to the Politico piece], it was the giant reaction from other women journalists," she recalls. "These women editors at the Chicago Tribune, who I have never met, sent me flowers after that article." Similarly: after her firing, she says, there was a large thread about her on TheLi.st, an email group of women in their 20s and 30s, which she liked. "TheLi.sters called me a badass, which is a cool thing in their view," says Abramson. "And I'm like, 'I am!' But, you know, it's a little dangerous to be a badass."

In the same vein, she also talks about making the Times masthead half-female for the first time in the paper's history: "It was because [the women I hired] were great and they deserved it. I am totally proud of that. A couple of times I had to explain that to men. I think there was some surprise at the speed at which some women got promoted." Right. It's important to recognize that hiring and promoting more women isn't just about fulfilling some quota. It's about making sure that a multiplicity of voices are represented and ensuring that women with talent have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. As far as I'm concerned, helping other women succeed in a male-dominated field is by far most badass thing a female executive can do.

You can read the rest of the interview here, which I highly recommend. (It contains a photo of her puppy, if you need convincing.)

Image via Getty.