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.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."