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NY Times Failed to Take Its Own Advice on Gender Pay Gap

The NY Times could have taken advice from its own editorial board on how to handle an embarrassing gender pay gap issue. Instead they tried to downplay the issue, exactly as they had criticized the White House for doing a month earlier.

Last month the White House was pushing gender pay equity as a big issue but there was a wrinkle in their PR effort. It turned out that the White House itself suffered from gender pay inequity, something spokesman Jay Carney struggled to explain when asked about it.

On April 9th the NY Times' editorial board weighed in to support the issue but also chose to offer the White House some advice on how to handle it's internal pay gap:

Some Republicans have chided Mr. Obama for pointing out the wage gap when the White House has one of its own. Female White House staff members make 88 cents on average for every $1 male employees earn, the American Enterprise Institute discovered. Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, has awkwardly noted that that is better than the national average and that men and women in the same positions earn the same salary.

But instead of becoming defensive and trying to explain away the discrepancy, Mr. Obama should simply say the White House has to do better and present the lag for what it is: more evidence that the problem persists even in workplaces committed to equal treatment.

As Chris Christie might say, "Don't lawyer it." Just confess you're not immune to the problem.

Jump forward to this week and the NY Times is firing its first female executive editor, Jill Abramson. Ken Auletta at the New Yorker posted a story indicating that a pay gap dispute was one of the issues that led to Abramson's dismissal. Specifically, Abramson had complained that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

The NY Times responded by claiming it wasn't true. They gave a statement to Dylan Byers saying "Jill's total compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller's, so that is just incorrect." Simple. There was no pay gap.

But the Times gave a different quote to Business Insider, "Jill's total compensation as executive editor was not meaningfully less than Bill Keller's, so that is just incorrect." So which is it? Was there no pay gap or was the pay got just really small? And why does the Times get to decide whether the pay gap is meaningful or not?

Fortunately, Auletta at the New Yorker published a follow up with some numbers:

Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman.* (Murphy would say only that Abramson’s compensation was “broadly comparable” to that of Taubman and Geddes.)

In case you're wondering, Abramson's starting salary was 85% of Keller's the same year. After she got a raise to $503k it would have been 90 percent. After she complained and got the final bump it was 94 percent.

It seems there was an even larger pay gap at her Washington bureau chief job. If her successor was paid $100k more than she was for the same job and she was making something in the neighborhood of $400k (an estimate based on her pay for the top job), then the gap had to be in the range of 20% or maybe more. That's approximately the 22% gap the White House always touts when pushing this issue.

There is some wiggle room here because the Times was talking about "total compensation" which might include bonuses, stock and stock options, pension, etc. But that aside, there was a salary gap which was noteworthy in at least two of her jobs. So let's revisit the Times' editorial board's advice for the White House and substitute a few words where necessary:

Instead of becoming defensive and trying to explain away the discrepancy, [the NY Times] should simply say the [Times] has to do better and present the lag for what it is: more evidence that the problem persists even in workplaces committed to equal treatment.

Needless to say, that's not what the Times did. I guess it's always easier to give advice than to take your own.


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