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.
There are women everywhere in the media, and doing everything. But there is no woman at the head of NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, or Fox News. Tina Brown is now the editor of Newsweek—for the first time we have a woman editor at the top of the masthead—and I think there’s a lot more opportunity now at Newsweek for women. Nancy Gibbs may well be the next editor of Time, and that would make her the first woman editor there.
If there’s one conversation I’ve had over and over again with women, it’s about the reluctance to put themselves forward that you mentioned. We get put into management positions because we’re empathetic, but that same quality that helps people get along means we’re often less likely to be assertive.