In early September, Forbes released its list of the top 100 business innovators of 2018. Unsurprisingly, the list was overwhelmingly male. What was surprising, though, was how bad the disparity was. Out of the list of 100, there was only one woman. That’s right, one. A silly—but revealing—reference point is the fact that there is double the number of people named Stanley than there are women. And I mean, who even names their kid Stanley? When I heard about this article, I was, of course, infuriated, although not particularly shocked. However, it did get me thinking: how did this happen?
The authors of the article tried to defend themselves by saying that it was not their fault, but that it was how their methodology worked out. They claimed that during the list creation process they did recognize there was a stark gender disparity, but the decisions were based on numbers and statistics, and there was nothing they could do to fix it. On the one hand, I understand where they are coming from. It would have bothered me if they had just thrown in women randomly out of pity and not held them to the same standard that they held the men. That’s simply degrading and disheartening. However, I do believe that there is a better way that Forbes could have approached this article to make it more inclusive and representative of innovators as a whole.
If the problem was with the methodology, then why not just change it? What a concept!
This form of sampling clearly has a problem that they recognized, and yet they did not consider making the change. I think that this is representative of a wider systemic issue. When we, as a society, continue to judge things the same way that we did in the past, we are not taking into account any cultural or societal changes or discoveries. For instance, many are starting to rethink the role of standardized tests like the SAT in the college admission process, as it has been proven that lower-income and minority students are more likely to receive lower scores, adding yet another barrier for these students to get into college. If we continue to grade students in the traditional sense, then it is more likely we would miss out on this other group.
This happens to women a lot. We tend to be judged with the same criteria as men and when we don’t meet those specific standards, we are seen as inferior. However, even if someone is not strong in one particular area, they may be just as strong and qualified in a different area. This doesn’t make them a weak leader, just a different one.
This particular list used a specific set of criteria, including if they had a net worth of $10 billion, and their track record, social capital, and reputation for innovation, among other things, to make the list. Right off the bat, these criteria are clearly biased toward men, as they are more likely to become that wealthy and have those opportunities. While these are traditionally considered characteristics of a good leader, what about things like empathy, ability to overcome adversity, or satisfaction of employers? I understand why the methodology that was used is valuable, but I also think that it is narrow and leaves out a bigger part of the picture.
We need to start being more mindful of the way that biases come into play when we are evaluating people and experiences. They can play a bigger role than we think. Rather than just publishing a list that they recognized was wrong, the authors should have taken a step back and thought about the implications of what they were publishing. Sure, you can’t fake data, but think about all of the little girls that may take a look at that list and think that they can never be an innovator. Or think about the bigoted people who may use the list as proof that women can never be as powerful or strong as men. There are broader social implications to everything that we post and create besides just the immediate consequences.
I think that men need to take more of a responsibility and play more of a role in the conversation. The burden of recognizing and dealing with sexism should not be solely on women.