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.
"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.