The Rundown
10:16 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Women In The News — Again

If there’s one thing I hate to do as a writer is repeat myself. I don’t like to say the same thing over and over again.

Jill Abramson delivering her commencement address at Wake Forest University on Monday, May 19.
Credit (Wake Forest University)

But sometimes, stories are so compelling and just don’t seem to die. So, I find that I have to retread familiar ground just a little bit.

This time, it’s women in corporate America.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

For those who have forgotten our high school French, that handy phrase translates to: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

That is how I felt reading about the outcome of the Francine Katz trial. She lost her case, by the way.

As a reminder: Francine Katz sued Anheuser-Busch alleging she had been discriminated against because she’s a woman. She alleged that she was purposely left out of activities that the male senior executives at A-B did together. She also claimed that she was underpaid in her roles as top communications executive and member of the company’s top Strategy Committee, making about half as much as her male predecessor earned.

After 13 days of testimony and more than 10 hours of deliberation, the jury determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that A-B had intentionally discriminated against Katz.

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, members of the jury felt that neither side gave substantive proof that Katz did or did not face discrimination: 

Outside the courthouse, the jury foreman,Dorian Daniels, 30, said deliberations were “taxing.” One of the most challenging parts, he said, was that the evidence brought by both sides was “circumstantial.”

“It was subjective,” said Daniels, of the evidence presented in the case.

I wasn’t in the courtroom and in no way can know what it was like to sit on that jury. But hearing the outcome brought to mind that “plus ça change” feeling because the news came on the heels of Jill Abramson’s forced resignation from The New York Times.

As a reminder: Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor at The Times. She was fired last week because … well, it depends on who you believe. The prevailing truth seems to be coming from Ken Auletta’s series of stories he wrote for the New Yorker

The problem seems to have started with Abramson not have a very chummy relationship with the paper’s publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., to begin with. Combine that with Abramson's recent discovery that not only was she being paid less than the man who held her post before her, but she also had been paid less in her former role of managing editor than her male peer in the same position.

Abramson confronted her boss about the pay discrepancy. That didn't go over well. And the whole the issue was complicated by the fact that Abramson had an apparently brusque leadership style. What’s more, she had some conflicts with The New York Times’ business side over their perceived intrusion into the newsroom.

It all culminated with Sulzberger feeling Abramson had lied to him over her attempt to hire someone.

I’m abbreviating the story significantly because it’s not so much the facts behind the story that catch the attention. It’s the pattern of another woman in a top position being held to what seem like different standards and getting paid less for it.

Auletta frames the issue this way in the third New Yorker story he wrote on the matter:                                                                                                                        

“It is true that Abramson was not necessarily any more peremptory or erratic than male predecessors like Raines or A. M. Rosenthal. At the same time, she was working in a more modern atmosphere in which there is a greater expectation that executives will be more considerate. Still, there is a legitimate question, one that some women at the Times have raised, about whether a man with similar behavior would be viewed the same way.”

In the wake of Abramson’s very public firing, she still had some obligations she had to fulfill, including giving the commencement address at Wake Forest University. It had to be a bit of an awkward situation for her, having to re-write her speech to balance the spectacle of a recently deposed editor with the hope of a college graduation.

But she did it. She spoke about resilience. About wanting something badly, not getting it and moving forward to get beyond the pain of disappointment. It was an appropriate message for a bunch of graduates, and a very diplomatic message to anyone at The Times who may have been listening.

Abramson summed up her own resolve and attitude toward journalism by saying:

"Some of you have faced danger or even a soul-scorching loss, but most of you haven’t. And leaving the protective cocoon of school for the working world must seem scary. You will have a dozen different jobs and will try different things. Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I revere, journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable, is what makes our democracy so resilient. And this is the work I will remain very much a part of."

Abramson said she has no idea what she’ll be doing with the rest of her life, but she gave plenty of examples of people in similar situations to her's who have overcome greater adversities than her own. You can watch Abramson's speech in this video from the Wake Forest University.

The question for those of us on the sidelines isn’t really, “What will Jill Abramson do next?” It’s actually, “When will we hear about the next female executive who isn’t making as much as her male peers?”

For some reason, I have a feeling it won’t be very long.

Chickens home to roost

I am constitutionally incapable of writing one of these columns without ending on some kind of fun story. This week, the story comes out of Clayton where one woman’s nearly three-decade-long chicken coop has suddenly been the target of the long arm of Clayton law.

Joy Stinger has kept chickens for 27 years in the garage outside her Clayton home and has had an agreement with the city that she could keep her cluckers as long as neighbors didn’t complain.

For nearly 30 years, no one complained. But then the St. Louis region caught the "Portlandia Bug" and suddenly saw the benefits of raising chickens. Suddenly, Stinger wasn't the only one raising birds in their yards. As the Post-Dispatch reports, with a critical mass of chicken lovers, the city stepped in to regulate the trend. And that’s where Stinger, 79, suddenly got caught in the cross-feathers of new ordinances that require her to pay a $50 filing fee as well as fill out an application to make sure she is complying with the city’s ordinance around possessing “domestic fowl.”

The moral of the story: it’s no fun being ahead of your time when that time catches up to you 30 years later.

The pictures of Stinger and her chickens in the Post-Dispatch story are well worth your attention.

This is not one of Joy Stinger's chickens. However, it appears to be perturbed by Clayton's crackdown on Stinger's coop.
Credit (Flickr/Peter Harrison)