A few years ago, when I still lived in New York, I started getting together with a group of women for dinner once every month or so. We called it our cabal. Like me, they worked in media; like me, they were all at a roughly senior editor level — usually the level where you report to someone who reports to the editor-in-chief. We all liked our jobs, but the theme of every conversation we had was almost always related to issues we had with men we worked with. There were the men who talked over us in meetings, the men who were never in the office but never failed to take credit for everything that the women who worked for them did, the men who went to lunch and out for drinks together all the time and never invited any of the women unless they were ones they wanted to sleep with.
“What can you say?” we asked each other. “They don’t even think they’re doing anything wrong. And if you do say something, then you’re pushy, or lame, or not a team player.” It was important, we realized then, to seem like we were OK with the way men ran things. And we wondered whether it got better.
In February 2012, I became the executive editor at BuzzFeed, and for the most part, it has — for me. I’m lucky to work for an editor-in-chief (hi, Ben!) who is quite thoughtful about these issues and has several women in leadership positions in the newsroom. (He also responds un-defensively to criticism, which many people do not.) But at BuzzFeed we’ve had the opportunity to create a newsroom culture from the ground up; we’re not dealing with entrenched systems where bad behavior gets reinforced and rewarded.
And then this week happens, and I’m reminded that things haven’t gotten much better for a lot of women in this profession. Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of the New York Times, gets fired and the publisher says, vaguely, it’s because of “an issue with management in the newsroom.” Natalie Nougayrède, the first female editor-in-chief of Le Monde, resigns because of what she says were “personal and direct attacks” against her by top staff. And then I’m reminded that only 33% of journalists with over 20 years of experience are women.
It makes me wonder where the female journalists at BuzzFeed will be in 10 or 20 years. I want us to in be a place where women feel empowered to advance in their careers and where women don’t feel like they have to downplay their skills or confidence because they’re worried about how they’re perceived, or that men might feel threatened by them.
I thought about this in light of one telling detail about Abramson’s firing and the appointment of Managing Editor Dean Baquet as her successor: that Abramson was considered to be pushy, but Baquet was the one who slammed his hand against a wall in anger after Abramson called him into her office to say that the paper’s recent stories weren’t “buzzy” enough. So when a woman gives a man (who reports to her!) criticism, it’s considered pushy, but when that man responds to his boss’s criticism with actual violence, he gets her job. That’s the kind of work environment that I don’t want at BuzzFeed, or anywhere. Hopefully the next generation of newsroom leaders, male and female, can make sure of that.