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.
Eboni K. Williams and Cheslie Kryst have a lot in common, as Iman Oubou Founder & CEO of SWAAY as well as host of the Women Who Swaay podcast puts it, "They're both badass attorneys, they're both from North Carolina and they've both competed in the Miss North Carolina USA pageants." And they also both took over our podcast on the most recent episode, straight from the headquarters of the Miss Universe Organization!
Cheslie is a successful licensed attorney who also happens to be the reigning Miss USA 2019, with plans to represent our country in the upcoming Miss Universe competition. Not only is she at the height of her pageant power, but she is using the notoriety to create positive change for all of the women in her life, much like her role model Eboni K. Williams. Williams is a journalist, author, attorney and speaker; from her long history as a pageant queen she has risen through the ranks of male dominated industries from law-firms to Fox News. All throughout her journey she has persevered with intelligence, tenacity and poise. Lucky enough for us, she has kindly put her reporting skills to use and got candid with Ms. Kryst about supporting their fellow women, the current state of race in America and their history together as pageant compatriots. All of these topics are incredibly close to their hearts as powerful black women using their influence to create a better future for all women in America.
Oh and, as previously stated, both are complete and utter badasses.
During their podcast takeover they talked about it all, from pageants to politics. It's clear that both of these women are motivated by an altruistic spirit and are strong supporters of #womensupportingwomen. Eboni even read a passage from her book, Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success, in which she outlines how her own career trajectory was so positively affected by the incredible women who mentored her in different stages of her life. She completely shuts down the idea of the "woman on woman teardown," calling it a "pitiful dynamic" tied to the "long and very hurtful history of women." This idea that in order to compete for a spot in the old boy's club, women must first fight off their own gender is not only reductive but it also supports an outdated social structure that was built to greatly favor male success. Throughout history women have been encouraged to look at one another as competition, one more obstacle to pass by. However, all that has managed to do is to pit us against each other, fighting for the few meager seats at the table allowed for women while we ignore the real problem. The problem isn't about the lack of seats allotted for women; the problem is that men are still the ones making the seating arrangements, and it's time for that to change, something that both Cheslie and Eboni understand well.
Race is another topic that is incredibly important to both of these women, and they have quite the in-depth discussion on it during this podcast. Cheslie, who is biracial and self-identifies as black, laid out her point of view on race. She voiced her frustrations for never feeling like she had her own box to tick, being stuck to decide between "black, white, or other" in standardized situations like the SATs. Existing as someone stuck between two cultures has been incredibly challenging, and though she found some solace in the black community, she felt less welcomed by her white peers. Self-identifying as black is something that has allowed her more agency in regards to her own identity, and though she still faces difficulties she realizes how important it is to be a confident black woman in the esteemed position she is currently in. Both Cheslie and Eboni seem to bond over the idea that no matter the successes, they both revel in the victories of their fellow women of color. Each of them is motivated to see more women of color in powerful, visible positions to inspire future generations. It's not about their own success; it's about respect and renown for any and all women of color.
I may have just provided the highlight reel, but the full conversation shared between Cheslie and Eboni on the Women Who Swaay podcast is a must listen. These two women managed to make me laugh while restoring hope for a better America all within a half hour of listening time! Seriously, go get those headphones, right now. You will not regret it.