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Forbes Magazine Listed The “100 Most Innovative Leaders” And Only One Woman Made The Cut

CEO of Ross Stores, Barbara Rentler, was the only woman on the list

On Friday Forbes Magazine released its annual issue listing the 100 ‘most innovative leaders’ in business. Almost immediately readers noticed something striking about the “most creative and successful business minds” in America. Ninety-nine of them were men. The CEO of Ross Stores, Barbara Rentler, was the only woman to make the cut, sneaking in at #75.

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff, Reed Hastings, Tim Cook and Satya Nadella were among the tech leaders who featured in the top 10.   

In the words of Forbes editor Randall Lane a ‘Twitterstorm’ ensued as readers reflected on the imbalance.

In a public response to the backlash, Lane wrote “The core social message – that Forbes editors picked 100 innovative leaders, while including only one woman—would anger me too.”

But, he insists, that wasn’t what actually happened.

“While I enjoy a subjective list as much anyone, the kind where you sit around a room debating and adding and culling, the vast majority of Forbes’ lists are data-driven exercises, where we determine a methodology, crunch the numbers and let the chips fall where they may.”

The blame for the under-representation of women on this list lies with the data and the methodology. Lane says the ‘well-honed’ methodology for this list is applied to the CEOs or founders of the largest public companies—mostly those worth $10 billion or more.

“This pool ultimately proved the problem: Women, as we all know, are poorly represented at the top of the largest corporations (just 5% of the S&P 500) and fare even worse among growing public tech companies,” Lane writes. “In other words, for all our carefully calibrated methodology, women never had much of a chance here.”

This list is not the first time Forbes has ‘laid bare’ a cultural problem. The lack of women on Forbes’ annual Billionaires list has been raised as an issue for years, that the magazine tried to counter with a new list for self-made women.

After only a single woman of colour made the cut in America’s Best-Paid Actresses, Lane says they analysed how that could be.

Lanes says these are ‘learning moments’ for the publication.

“In this case, we should have similarly used this moment to delve into the larger problem of women ascending to CEO. We own that. Our methodology was flawed, as well—at a minimum when it came to being more expansive with who was eligible to be ranked.”

His response is valid and was relatively swift and sincere, but it is extraordinary that this problem wasn’t pre-empted ahead of publication. Did no-one venture, at any point during the production process, that perhaps naming 100 brilliant minds, 99 of whom were men, seemed odd? Did no one ponder that it might spark a reaction? That it would not go unnoticed?

In the year 2019 the fact one of the most high-profile business magazines in the world can celebrate the achievements, success and innovation of 100 individuals, with only a single female included, without pausing to consider the optics is quite astonishing.

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