Separate or Equal: Are Gendered Lists OK Or Just The Best We Got?
Barbara Rentler is the only one in the room.
As social media has made mostly all of us aware, the CEO of Ross stores is the only woman who made it to the recent Forbes list of 100 "Most Innovative" business leaders in America.
According to Business Insider, “The rankings are presented by HSBC Bank and are prefaced by the question, ‘Who are the most creative and successful business minds of today?’"
Forbes only reinforced the metrics, the rubric and the pipeline problem.
Randall Lane, Forbes editor, wrote this reply: “This pool ultimately proved the problem: Women, as we all know, are poorly represented at the top of the largest corporations (just 5% of the S&P 500) and fare even worse among growing public tech companies. In other words, for all our carefully calibrated methodology, women never had much of a chance here.”
Lane writes, “In the past, when a list lays bare larger cultural issues, we’ve created learning moments. For years, many criticized Forbes’ Billionaires list for its lack of women. While that’s a case of shooting the messenger—we just count the money—we’ve also taken active steps to counterbalance, including the creation of a specific list of the Richest Self-Made Women, which over four years has proved to be almost as popular as the overall Billionaires list itself. For the Next Billion Dollar Startup list, we examined possible timelines for more women-led company funding. When we ranked America’s Best-Paid Actresses, we also analyzed why only one woman of color made the cut. In this case, we should have similarly used this moment to delve into the larger problem of women ascending to CEO. We own that.”
But this is not about this one list. This list is not an anomaly. The prevalence of all-male panels, all-male boardrooms and all-male hiring teams affects organizations, institutions and businesses across the country.
The response in many cases is to offer separate male and female business leaders’ lists and awards—with the implication that the standards for excellence are separate and not equal.
Historically, this is reminiscent of the “binders full of women” implication that the number of available women leaders is finite and can be contained in a binder or two. Historically, sports has been gendered, as well as awards in entertainment, and even in media going back to the days of “women’s pages” when women journalists were relegated to covering “soft” features of family, home and health.
This also is reminiscent of every compliment many women have received since grade school when told by a teacher, coworker or peer that they were good at something, that they had excelled. Often the diminishing, “for a girl,” or “for a woman” followed the compliment.
The binary separation of awards by gender can make sense in sports and possibly entertainment, but business, innovation and entrepreneurship need not be separated by gender. Innovation is not gender-specific.
Yes, the numbers of women at the top are not there.
“The percentage of women in high-level leadership roles among the top U.S. companies is still dramatically lower than that of men. While there is still a ways to go, the past few decades have brought vast improvement for women leaders,” Inc reports. “On the latest Fortune 500 list released in May 2019, 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs on the May 2019 list are female, a considerable jump from 2018's total of 4.8%.”
Take The Lead has the mission of gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025.
One vision of parity may also include lists that do not differentiate excellence and achievement by gender. The most innovative person at a company may not be the founder or CEO. The most innovative may be the CFO or the CMO, and those titles can more often be held by women.
Take The Lead regularly celebrates the inclusion and celebration of women making it to the tops of lists. For the 100th edition of the Take The Lead newsletter, we celebrated our favorite 100 lists.
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, writes in Take The Lead that the narrative we are told about women and power does not account for the systemic changes needed to change the story.
“I’ve started focusing increasingly on showing women via the data what this implicit bias does to our heads. Once we know that, it’s defanged and loses its power to lower our confidence. And we can move on to both short term situational solutions and longer term systemic changes.”
Feldt continues, “Information has its own power. Quantifying discrimination can motivate companies to change hiring policies or politicians to change laws.”