HR & Management

Published

What Forbes’s 100 Most Powerful Women tell us about diversity

6 Mins

Forbes’s “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” were selected for their ability to shift our very idea of authority and, in the process, transform the world in fresh and exhilarating ways. 

This year, the list featured eight heads of state with a combined GDP of $9.9tn and 24 corporate CEOs who controlled $893bn worth of revenues. Surprisingly, 16 per cent consisted of women who had founded their own companies. With 14 billionaires and a combined Twitter following of over 153m, these women certainly have a staggering amount of influence. 

But what do these leading ladies teach us about the state of diversity?

There are many role-models to choose from

Last year, there were numerous debates regarding the lack of female role-models for the younger generation. We no longer have to worry, the rankings suggest. From entertainment stars to tech titans, these women represent the pioneers of politics, business, media, humanitarian causes, entertainment and technology. Although the top ten are mostly political figures, the list has become a mix of celebrities and CEOs that sport a number of role-models to choose from.

Of course, numerous celebrities, media personalities, politicians and fashion retailers still reign supreme: German chancellor Angela Merkel in first place, Oprah Winfrey at 13, Beyoncé at 17, and Miuccia Prada at 58. What truly shows the progress of women, however, comes in the form of categories such as real estate and metals and mining – both of which are still considered “manly” industries. Georgina Rinehart, executive chairman of Hancock Prospecting, finds herself at 16 while Wu Yajun, chairman of Longfor Properties became the 48th most powerful woman.

More women are entering the tech world

The technology industry is still dominated by men, but the increasing numbers of women within the category show that it is possible for women to hold a high-ranking position. With 15 names added to the “most powerful” ranks, women have increased their number of rankings from the year before. Essentially, one in six women on the Forbes power list come from the tech industry.

For the second year running, tech has been given its own category. Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and newcomer Microsoft CFO Amy Hood are included in the top 63. The highest ranked tech lady is Sandberg in sixth place, followed by Rometty at number 12.

Women are entering the world stage

Merkel topped the list for the third successive year, but has also come second on Forbes’s “Most Powerful People” list – she was beaten by Barack Obama. Only two other “most powerful women” managed to follow her. Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff is the 18th most powerful person in the world, while Christine Lagarde, managing director of IMF, ranked 38th. 

Forbes highlights that “there are nearly 7.1bn people on the planet. These are the 71 who matter the most.” Were we to take Forbes’s perspective into account, then only 8.45 per cent of women actually matter. Men do, however, still hold the most powerful positions in the world. But the six women on the list suggest that gender equality is shifting in the right direction, one step at a time.

Where are the leading British women?

According to Radio 4’s “Power List“, there are plenty of British women that are shaping the way we live today. Home secretary Theresa May, Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond and Shine Group chairman Elisabeth Murdoch, are all classified as industry changer. But once again, we find a shocking lack of British women amongst the global power-houses. The Queen and J.K. Rowling were the only two to make it onto the list, both of whom dropped in the rankings. The Queen fell from 26 to 40, while J.K. Rowling almost didn’t make the cut at her newly-found rank of 93.

Women are finding it hard to reach those top positions. That only two Briton’s have made it onto the list is perhaps testimony that the UK has far to go in shortening the gender gap. Boardwatch, part of the Professional Boards Forum, found that while female appointments to non-executive director roles are increasing, executive board promotions remain low. Although there has been a slowdown of women who reached the board of top companies, Vince Cable, business secretary, states that the government hopes to have more women on the boards of top companies by 2015.

The top ten women on the 2013 Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women”:

  1. Angela Merkel, German chancellor
  2. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil
  3. Melinda Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  4. Michelle Obama, US First Lady
  5. Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state
  6. Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
  7. Christine Lagarde, managing director, IMF
  8. Janet Napolitano, US homeland security secretary
  9. Sonia Gandhi, president, Indian National Congress party
  10. Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo

More powerful women will hit the stage at the London Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square on on June 12, 2013 for the First Women Awards 2013.

Share this story

Buying a distressed business: When speed is of the essence
Congestion charges: Use them right and they’ll be good for business
Send this to a friend