Wage Equity in Islam vs Wage Inequity at the New York Times–The Case of Jill Abramson

Posted on May 16, 2014


Shame on the New York Times for gender bias. The number one (and biased) US news paper with a global reach shows its true colors by discriminating in pay against its first female executive editor, Jill Abramson, and then firing her. She found out that for equal work, she was making less money (in pay and pension benefits) than the previous male executive editor, Bill Keller. My forthcoming article in the Strategic Management journal relates to pay equity/compensation and CEOs of the top US Fortune 1000 companies over a period of 10 years, and we found that women CEOs are in general not discriminated against because of their gender. However, women below the rank of CEO are. Because Abramson was not the CEO of the NYT but the COO of the NYT, she was–as are the majority of US women below the CEO rank in the US–paid less than their counterpart.

Islam of course does not agree with this type of discrimination though this takes place in many countries. My book on Islamic Business Ethics (available from the Institute of Islamic Thought [Tel (703) 471-1133(703) 471-1133 ● Fax: (703) 471-3922 ● E-mail: iiit@iiit.org] refers to the discussion by Ibn Taymiyaa on this subject.Fair Wages: Ibn Taymiya suggests that an employer is under obligation to pay a fair remuneration to his employees. Some employers may take advantage of a worker and underpay him or her because of their need for income. Islam is against such exploitation. If the wage level is too low, the individual may not feel motivated to put in an adequate amount of effort. Similarly if the wage level is too high, the employer may not be able to make a profit and keep the business going. In an Islamic organization, wages must be set in an equitable manner both with respect to employees and the employer. On the Day of Judgment, the Prophet (s) will be a witness against “one who employs a laborer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages.” The emphasis on wage equity has permeated Islamic history for centuries. During the time of the four rightly-guided Caliphs and until the advent of Western colonialism, the institution of the hisba was developed to uphold public law and order and oversee the relationship between buyers and sellers in the market. The mission of the hisba was to safeguard right conduct and guard against dishonesty. The hisba was under the guidance of the muhtasib who was responsible “for the maintenance of public morality and economic ethics.” One of the duties of the muhtasib was to arbitrate in dispute over wages. In such cases, the muhtasib would often propose the ajar methyl (wage acceptable for a similar work by others) as an equitable wage. This is an example of the principle of equity or justice at work again. This is what the axiomatic principle of justice (‘adl) would demand of all Muslim employers.

Again, the West can claim that there is no gender bias in wages, but clearly all countries including the US are violating that contention. Islam has always advocated for wage equity among all workers from its beginnings. And Allah is the Most Just.

Here is the article from the New Yorker about Jill Abramson’s fight with the New York Times:

“At the annual City University Journalism School dinner, on Monday, Dean Baquet, the managing editor of the New York Times, was seated with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s publisher. At the time, I did not give a moment’s thought to why Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, was not at their table. Then, at 2:36 P.M. on Wednesday, an announcement from the Times hit my e-mail, saying that Baquet would replace Abramson, less than three years after she was appointed the first woman in the top job. Baquet will be the first African-American to lead the Times.

Fellow-journalists and others scrambled to find out what had happened. Sulzberger had fired Abramson, and he did not try to hide that. In a speech to the newsroom on Wednesday afternoon, he said, “I chose to appoint a new leader of our newsroom because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects …” Abramson chose not to attend the announcement, and not to pretend that she had volunteered to step down.

As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson, who spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, had been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, which accounted for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. [Update: On Thursday, Sulzberger gave his staff a memo on what he said was “misinformation” on the pay question. “It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors,” he wrote. “Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors.”] Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. [Update: The man in question, John Geddes, was in fact the managing editor of news operations.] “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.” [Please click here to read the complete article from the New Yorker.}