You’re Right, NY Times – A Lot of Sexism IS Subtle

The New York Times ran an important story on gender bias in the ad industry. The timing was interesting for me. I was sharing an UberPool with someone en route to iMedia’s Agency Summit yesterday, and the topic came up with the other passenger. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who was in town for a few months from Chicago, and when I brought up my industry, she referenced “Mad Men.” I noted how some issues like sexism persist, even if it is usually more subtle. As the topic has gained currency in recent months, I have heard some astounding stories of implicit and explicit sexism, and it can be demoralizing to hear what a persistent issue this is for female executives of all experience levels.

Yet the Times inadvertently highlights what’s wrong. Consider the passage below – the lede no less:

As a so-called bathroom break girl at the advertising agency BBDO in 1985, Susan Credle took over for receptionists when they left their desks. When she learned how to type quickly and accurately, she was promoted to secretary. In the decades since, she has become one of the most accomplished women in the industry, holding top executive positions at some of the most esteemed creative agencies. She has been behind numerous memorable campaigns, including the humanlike M&M’s characters and Allstate’s Mayhem ads.

What’s wrong with this?

My issue is this phrase: “one of the most accomplished women in the industry.”

Ms. Credle has an outstanding resume, a career that should be the envy of any. Why is she “one of the most accomplished women” and not “most accomplished people”?

And would the Times ever say “one of the most accomplished men” in such a context?

I am guilty of this at times myself. I have a daughter, and sometimes I catch myself remarking that she’s “such a good girl” – which she is – but what I really want to acknowledge is that she is “such a good person.” That’s the higher praise.

I’d hope our paper of record would be a little more vigilant about this though.

Especially in an article about gender discrimination.