Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Bitch From Hell?

Now that's a controversial title for a blog post!  A piece by Dylan Byers about the reign of Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the  New York Times, subtly hints at the possibility of Abramson's bitchiness.

Some snippets from Byers' article:

One Monday morning in April, Jill Abramson called Dean Baquet into her office to complain. The executive editor of The New York Times was upset about the paper’s recent news coverage — she felt it wasn’t “buzzy” enough, a source there said — and placed blame on Baquet, her managing editor. A debate ensued, which gave way to an argument.
Minutes later, Baquet burst out of Abramson’s office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom. He would be gone for the rest of the day, absent from the editors’ daily 4 p.m. meeting, at which he is a fixture
In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom. More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with. If Baquet had burst out of the office in a huff, many said, it was likely because Abramson had been unreasonable.
“Every editor has a story about how she’s blown up in a meeting,” one reporter said. “Jill can be impossible,” said another staffer.
Just a year and a half into her tenure as executive editor, Abramson is already on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom. Staffers commend her skills and her experience but question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper. At times, they say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring.

If Abramson is disengaged, Baquet is just the opposite: He cares about newsroom morale and he cares about being liked, staffers say. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his own issues. As Washington bureau chief, he got so upset when a story didn’t make the front page that he drove his fist through the wall. (“I never lose my temper at a person,” he said. “I lose my temper at walls.”) But even this anecdote is recalled fondly.

Bolds are mine.

Note the different characterization of Abramson and Baquet.  I'm wondering how that characterization would have sounded if Baquet had been a woman who stormed out of the room bashing walls and Abramson her male boss.  It's not difficult to assume that the female Baquet could have been seen as overly emotional, unable to control her feelings, going as far as punching the walls, and that the male Abramson would have been seen as a decisive and cool boss type.  Ann Friedman thinks so.

I don't know these people which means that I have no way of judging whether Abramson's gender affects the way she is judged in Byers' article.  Perhaps not.  On the other hand, if we have different patterns for men and women in the world of work, as we seem to have, then it's not impossible that Abramson is expected to act more kindly and to be more accessible than the case would be for a male boss.  That expectation, if we hold it, will be a subconscious one and doesn't preclude the aware assessment of her as "impossible."  Even if she wouldn't be regarded as impossible with a first name like Dylan.

This is what makes it  difficult to judge arguments about individual female and male bosses.  Of course there are terrible  bosses of both genders, but it's also likely that female bosses are held to higher and contradictory standards:  Be kind!  Be motherly!  But if you act that way you are indecisive, dithering, not strong enough.  

And we may weigh the requirements of kindness and accessibility more when the boss is female, given that on some level we believe those are "natural" for women to possess.

In any case, several studies have demonstrated that women leaders are held to contradictory standards.  Ultimately this is because the pattern for a leader has to do with characteristics we associate with men, not with women.

Those contradictions are not so present when we assess male leaders.  A man can show kindness and that's a bonus because it is in some ways not what his pattern makes us demand.  It's just an extra nice aspect of an otherwise ambitious and firm boss.
For more on this, see Lawyers, Guns and Money.