Career 09 September 2019
Apparently Forbes thinks 99:1 is a fair gender ratio when it comes to ranking innovative leaders. Yup, you read that right. Of the 100 most "innovative" leaders on Forbes newest list, only 1 is a woman: Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores Inc. came in with a "company innovation premium" of 23.04 and was ranked 75th.
According to Forbes, they could not rank every leader so their "sample" reflected a specific set of requirements: "the founders or CEOs (or CEOs who have become chairman of the board within the past year) of: (a) U.S. firms with greater than $10 billion market value, (b) the 50 largest private U.S. firms to go public over the past five years and (c) U.S. firms within the top 100 companies on their most recent Forbes Most Innovative Growth Companies list." Which, in itself, is biased due to the lack of gender representation in the companies that fit these restrictions.
I hope the irony of attempting to quantify something as inherently ephemeral as innovation isn't lost on Forbes. Not to mention the fact that the writers of this list are three white men, which leaves much to be desired in terms of innovation. For the sake of discussion, to innovate is defined as "to introduce something new; make changes in anything established." Though, personally, I don't find a list of 99 men to be particularly innovative especially considering how long-established the male bias in business is. The beauty of diversity is inherently innovative in and of itself, bringing in people of different backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities to share their perspectives and expand the scope of that organizations' understanding.
Since the release of this list, Forbes has been dealing with a lot of (completely earned) controversy, and have even released multiple follow-ups detailing both their criteria for list choices and a direct response to the criticism itself. Forbes has called this outcry of gender-bias accusations an "opportunity missed," referring to the critiques of their list as a "Twitter storm" or "squall." Their justification for the list is a slightly more technical version of—"It's not our fault!" According to Randall Lane, the author of said response, most of the lists that Forbes publicizes are "data-driven exercises," in which the list-curators "determine a methodology, crunch the numbers and let the chips fall where they may." That's all well and good, but if the criteria you are using in inherently biased in and of itself, that is when a problem occurs. Forbes is proposing that innovation (for their purposes) refers to "publicly-traded companies valued at a number beyond what their mere financial performance justifies." Yet, they are attempting to put a quantifiable value on something that they are also admitting to be outside the realm of typical financial valuation.
This issue basically comes down to two major problems. One, Forbes is attempting to put something as mutable as innovation into a calculator and have it give them a direct answer to their formula. Two, the formula is itself biased given that it was restricted to companies valued at over $10 billion, which is skewed largely male given women's lack of representation in leadership positions of top companies. Both of these reasons are extrapolated in the official response from Forbes (also written by a white man), but knowing what the problems are doesn't make the result any less worthy of censure. Did anyone stop to think, before publishing this list, that maybe it would be a poor decision to release something that was so overwhelming skewed towards one gender? Better yet, did anyone stop to think that there was a better way to calculate this list in the first place? Apparently Forbes will be giving this list a "rethink" for the future, but they have already shown us their true colors. It remains to be seen how genuine their concern for this issue truly is outside of bad publicity and a "Twitterstorm."
As a part of the mission to SWAAY the narrative, I wanted to propose a counter to Forbes' Top 100 American Innovators. Although we cannot portent to have the same deft usage of algorithms and quantifiable data, nor the same restrictions on eligibility for our list, we want to join this conversation and make room for more innovative women to be the topic. So, here's ten women (of the many worthy contenders) who we think are worthy of being considered some of the most innovative leaders in America, all across the spectrum of age, experience, and value. We may not have the metrics that Forbes utilizes, but we have at least ten times more to say on the matter of innovative women.
1. Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics
At age 40, Rothblatt came out as transgender and has since been a fierce advocate for trans rights whilst continuing her dynamic leadership at United Therapeutics.
2. Hayley Sudbury, Founder and CEO of WERKIN
Werkin is a company that uses "behavioral science" to help companies diversity their hiring practices. So not only is Sudbury is leading the charge in advocating for diversity herself as lesbian and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but so is her company.
3. Jessica Matthews, Founder & CEO of Uncharted Power
Does anybody else remember that viral Facebook video of the soccer ball that can power a lamp? It's been a minute, but since then, Matthews (a dual US-Nigerian citizen) and Uncharted Power have been working towards more creative power solutions through kinetic energy.
4. Stephanie Lampkin, Founder & CEO of Blendoor
Blendoor is a company with a mission to rid the hiring world of unconscious bias; they "aggregates diverse talent from multiple sources" to help companies find the best talent for them whilst supporting a more inclusive work environment.
5. Star Cunningham, Founder & CEO of 4D Healthware
This former IBM executive now runs a company inspired by her own struggles with chronic illness. 4D Healthware's goal is something that no other company is doing, to streamline the diagnosis, treatment, and care coordination of chronic illnesses.
6. Pat McGrath, Founder & CEO of Pat McGrath Labs
McGrath is without a doubt the most famous makeup artist in the world, but she's also one of the most powerful business moguls. McGrath went from a highly sought-after artist and utilized that power to create and market her own products that haven't stopped flying off the Sephora shelves since then.
7. Robyn Rihanna Fenty, CEO & Artistic Director of Fenty
Rihanna is the richest female musician in the world, and she didn't get there just through singing songs. Much of her wealth comes from her forward thinking fashion and beauty work through Fenty.
8. and 9. Polina Veksler, Co-founder & CEO and Alex Waldman Co-founder & Creative Director of Universal Standard
Universal Standard is disrupting the notion that women of a certain size don't deserve to shop with their friends. That's right, their company was founded because these two ladies wanted to be able to go clothes shopping, together. But now they've created a model for size inclusivity from 00 all the way to 40.
10. Alice Zhang, Co-founder & CEO of Verge Genomics
Zhang and Verge Genomics are working towards deconstructing the barriers between "between industry, academia, computation and biology" in order to fully realize the potential benefits that AI can have in the healthcare industry and treatment options.
4 Min Read
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.