Let’s Talk About Forbes

According to Forbes’ latest list, 99 of the 100 most innovative leaders in America are men. The one woman on the list was awarded the great honor of being number 75, but it seems Forbes couldn’t be bothered to even show her face. Just an outline of a male figure.

But hey, at least she was on there, right? Wrong.

This wasn’t a list of the most innovative male leaders. This wasn’t a parade of the most innovative mostly white leaders. This list was supposed to represent the most innovative leaders in America, where half the population is female, and a good number are not white.

Randall Lane, editor of Forbes, issued an explanation of sorts that blamed the list’s results on the methodology: “Women never had much of a chance…” Still, he published it anyway. (Let’s be honest, had it not been for the public outcry, we may not have even gotten this explanation, albeit a sorry one.)

Forbes knows all about innovation, so how did this even happen? It’s negligent, irresponsible, and the easy thing to do. Truly determining innovation takes work. It means creating new and better solutions, instead of picking the “best” options from the same old pool. We need to be intentional about moving beyond what’s been done and look outside of our existing environments for something fresh. That is innovation.

We don’t need an explanation of how the system is broken; we know the system is broken. What we need is for corporations to stop using it to define examples of good leadership.

To acknowledge uneven power structures and biases of the existing system is great, except that continuing to contribute to said systems is the same as supporting it.

Let’s be clear – this is not a “men versus women” issue. This is about systems. I guess if we want to see women or non-white innovative leaders, we’ll have to check out the other Forbes verticals. That’s the problem. Why should we have to click on Forbes Women to see women? Giving women a separate space isn’t progress, it’s the “sewing circle” all over again.

We can talk about flawed methodology all day long–though I certainly won’t give Forbes a gold star for doing so–but let’s actually be innovative and talk about solutions.

The solution? We (men and women alike) need to elevate women’s contributions to the private sector whenever they occur. We don’t need to wait for a special occasion or siloed platform to highlight the ways women are leading, and leading well, in these spaces.

About Anna Blue & Melissa Kilby
Anna & Melissa are innovators in youth-development programs; experts on the values, perceptions, and preferences of Gen Z; and the Co-Executive Directors of Girl Up, a leadership development organization creating a generation of young women changemakers.