The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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In the spring of 1976, a young woman graduated from Harvard College with a degree in History and Literature. While in school, she had acted in Noel Coward plays and had written a thesis on the unemployed in Britain during the Great Depression. On top of all this, she had contributed to Time Magazine during her years at the College and, after graduation, decided to embark on a career in journalism.
She got her start at American Lawyer and covered the 1976 presidential election for Time. Ten years out of school, she was named editor-in-chief of Legal Times, and eventually became a reporter and deputy Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal before moving on to even greater things. Today, that same young woman—Jill E. Abramson ’76—is the executive editor of The New York Times.
In our perspective, one of the great ironies of journalism—an allegedly progressive industry devoted to public accountability and, in some cases, advocacy—has always been the historic homogeneity of its editors and reporters, who, in this country at least, have remained products of the white establishment even after the various social movements of the late twentieth century began to change social mores. Even though other industries have slowly begun to embrace diversity in the workplace, journalism continues to lag behind. In the last decade, for instance, the International Federation of Journalists released data that showed that of the 44 percent of American journalists who are women, only five percent of them occupied decision-making positions. In that sense, it’s heartening to see that Abramson has taken the helm of The Times, arguably the most prestigious news organization in the country if not the world.
From the perspective of students currently navigating the job market, the message that women can and will succeed in corporate America is among the first things recruiters assure potential job applicants. Even still, the highest ranks of the corporate ladder are, in almost every industry, predominately occupied by men—and, while we’re at it, white men. In fact, just over two percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women (the last survey doesn’t account for Carol Bartz’s recent departure from Yahoo).
Although, of course, many women do exercise power in various capacities and in various industries, there is still much to be done in terms of equalizing the power gradient in the workplace. And while journalism doesn’t exactly fall within the boundaries of corporate America, its potential to impact society and to shape public discourse remains considerable. In that sense, we look forward to a greater diversity of voices that can shape such a collective conversation, and we hope that Abramson’s appointment will be an important step in that direction.
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