Forbes’s List of “America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders” Featured Only One Woman

On September 6, 2019, Forbes Magazine released its list of “America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders,” and while the list featured known titans such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the list had one inescapable issue: it only featured one woman. According to Forbes Magazine, the process involved in creating this list was finding top founders and CEOs that had “media reputation for innovation, social connections, track record for for value creation and investor expectations for value creation”, displaying that while there was thought and methodology in selecting the 100, the almost nonexistent representation of women furthered existing biases and was an indicator that the approach should change. 

As expected, there was severe backlash on social media from men and women alike. As author Anand Giridharadas aptly put, “There are twice as men named Stanley on the list than there are women in total...and there are only two ‘Stanleys’ listed.” People called out Forbes for the lack of representation by the list, curated by three professors and one consultant- all of whom were men. To add salt to the wound, the one woman on the list- Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores, did not even have a picture to go with her name. The move seemed almost lackadaisical on Forbes’ part and the social media anger was justified. 

In response to the backlash, Forbes’s editor, Randall Lane, posted a piece about “opportunity missed.” He explained how the methodology was applied to CEOs and founders of the largest public companies worth $10 billion or more. And there lies the flaw. He mentioned how the pool ultimately proved to be the problem and how, “ 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. In other words, for all our carefully calibrated methodology, women never had much of a chance here.”

This delves into the deeper issue of equality and representation in executive positions and male dominated industries. There is a reason there are 99 men on that list and it stems from the lack of female CEOs in top industries. In the Fortune 500 company list from 2018, out of the 500 companies, there were only 24 female CEOs, displaying the immense disparity in leadership positions. But, the struggle does not end there. When discussing something as systemic and multifaceted as workplace inequalities and patriarchal standards, there are a multitude of other issues to be addressed such as wage gaps, sexism, pay disparities, biases, sexual harassment and more. While there are numerous female innovators, it is the unfortunate truth that when it comes to the executive business position aspect, women are lacking. They do not lack in talent or brains, and yet are still lacking in terms of opportunities and positions. It is because of the invisible barriers that are already implemented that make the climb to the top so arduous. 

This one list sparked conversation and while it could have been focused on the positives of the brightest innovators of our time, the lack of equal representation was much more pressing. Forbes admitted to its shortsightedness and brought attention to the unfortunate truth of our business systems. As we progress, this conversation is necessary to realize how many invisible barriers are placed that stop women from succeeding. While it’s never simple to break systemic issues, highlighting the problem and beginning conversation is always the first step. We are taking that step in the right direction. 

Next time, Forbes, be more innovative with your innovation lists; women need representation too.