People & Ideas

Dec 6, 2012

If Forbes can’t find powerful women, who can?

Try to find women on Forbes' list of the world's most powerful people. It's depressing, but quotas aren't necessarily the answer.

There are 71 people on Forbes' annual list of the most powerful people in the world released today. Just six of them are women. And if that doesn't depress you enough, check out how Forbes is selling the list on its website: "There are nearly 7.1 billion people on the planet. These are the 71 who matter the most." Yep, if we're to believe Forbes, women only account for 8.45% of the people who most matter on planet Earth. Those women include German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2), Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi (12), Brazil president Dilma Rousseff (18), IMF managing director Christine Lagarde (38) and WHO director general Margaret Chan (58). But given the ways we tend to measure power the Forbes gender breakdown is to be expected. Like it or not, men hold the most powerful positions in the world. There are more male heads of state, more male CEOs and chairs, more men at the helm of major institutions. And it's not just the obvious positions where men dominate in overwhelming numbers. As we found on The Power Index, as much as we wanted to include more women on our lists, there weren't too many women to include without venturing into tokenism -- at least according to how we defined power in each of the list categories published. We spoke about introducing quotas for these lists, but in the end decided that if there are fewer women in so-called "powerful" positions then we'd like others to know about it. We may have a female governor general and prime minister, but that can't make up for the lack of women elsewhere: among those who control the flow of money, those who can influence policy -- overtly or not -- and those who pull the strings of media. Not even across measurable positions in corporate Australia, where women hold just 9.2% of the board and senior executive positions available on the ASX500. Indeed, not even on our major sporting boards -- where the likes of Cricket Australia appointing a woman director (Jacquie Hey, last month) is major news given the board's operated for 107 years without one. When I wrote about this on The Power Index earlier this year, thinker Eva Cox left a thought-provoking response. She asked if women are under-represented in lists like these because the more "feminised fields" barely count. She asked if the gender imbalance on The Power Index was merely a reflection of an economy that tends to dominate political debates. "Maybe some serious debate about the limits of that worldview would open a debate about alternative views of what should count in assessing the influencing of social wellbeing," she wrote. When it comes to who really runs the formal institutions of Australia, and much of the world, there are many fewer women than men. However, I won't go so far as to say that means there are not another 65 woman who "matter" just as much as the 65 men Forbes has identified. *This article was originally published at Women's Agenda

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2 thoughts on “If Forbes can’t find powerful women, who can?

  1. Cyndi

    Similarly, the last issue of The (Sydney) Magazine published its 100 most powerful (influential or whatever) people and could only come up with 33 women, most of whom work in the arts or other female-friendly professions.

    How about redefining the meaning of powerful and influential. Can’t be that hard.

  2. Patriot

    “How about redefining the meaning of powerful and influential. Can’t be that hard.”

    Sure, why not. They just changed the meaning of misogyny. So go right ahead – redefine power for us, ladies. It’s an open challenge. Can’t be that hard.

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