The last thing we asked for was a woman senior editor. Joe said, “No, no, that’s management; you can’t tell us who’s in management.” We said, “Well, we aren’t signing an agreement that doesn’t have a woman in the meeting where the decisions are being made.” So finally he caved in, and we signed the agreement in the spring of 1973. We said, “By the end of 1975, Newsweek will have a woman senior editor.”
How did that turn out to be you?
Ed Kosner, who was the managing editor, called me up in the spring of 1975 and asked me to try out. In August, Ed became the editor—Oz moved up to editor in chief—and Ed appointed me as the first woman senior editor of Newsweek, in August 1975. It’s unusual that one of the people who was involved in a lawsuit ends up being rewarded with a position like that. Most of the women on the front lines at Newsweek, at The New York Times, at Reader’s Digest—their careers did not go so well.
You talked to some young women for your book. What do you think has gotten better, and what hasn’t changed at all?
After 1975—I use that only because that was a moment when a woman got into management—things happened very fast for women. I would say between ’75 and ’85, in all the news organizations, women just flooded into those positions. Everyone thought, “Boy, this is it.” Our mindset was that it was a pipeline problem: We just need women in the pipeline, and of course they’ll succeed.
You know, things ebb, things flow, and that’s okay, as long as they flow as well as ebb. In 2010, three young women at Newsweek contacted me, because they had just found out that we had sued Newsweek 40 years earlier. They were very unhappy because they weren’t getting ahead at Newsweek. By 2010, there was no Research category anymore—it had been eliminated—so every woman hired at Newsweek was either a reporter or a writer. But they realized the men were getting better assignments; they were moving ahead faster. [The women] weren’t being listened to—they felt marginalized. And it was post-feminism. The sex wars were over, we were equal now, so it couldn’t be discrimination; it must be them. They must not be talented enough to get ahead. Then we talked to them about our story.
They decided to write a story in Newsweek about young women in the workplace today, and the kind of subtle discrimination that still exists—not the discrimination of our era that was so obvious, but small things: management that feels more comfortable with men around them than women, styles of how to approach things, [women] not putting [themselves] forward, and being assigned more “female” kinds of stories, not the tougher stories.
It took them a long time to get it in the magazine. I give Newsweek credit; they did publish the story. And it was a really good story. It not only talked about Newsweek and the news media, it talked about how women MBAs out of business school were hired at a lower salary than male MBAs. How women with no children, in the workforce, were still getting paid less than men.
To me, the most interesting thing about meeting these young women—and of course we all bonded immediately—was, they had no sense of history. They knew nothing about our case. They didn’t call themselves feminists.
After they wrote their story, went through their process of trying to get it published, and knowing that we were rooting them on and that we had this common history, they all became very interested in women’s issues. They now call themselves feminists.
At the Columbia commencement in May, I spoke to Gloria Steinem, who was getting an honorary doctorate, and she joked that now that journalism is a profession that’s been devalued, and is no longer trusted by the American public, women can run with it.
Well, yeah. [laughs]. I think in many ways, women are doing better; it’s just that you have to look. I think the issue now is at the very top. [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg said that that’s true for women in the executive suites and CEOs and on boards—that there’s been no progress in ten years about the number of women there.