Female CEOs Blast 'Forbes' List Of Innovative Leaders That Includes Only One Woman

Sep 11, 2019
Originally published on September 13, 2019 11:29 am

Note: An updated version of the letter, with additional signatures, was published Sept. 13.

"We blew it."

That was Forbes editor Randall Lane's assessment on Twitter after his publication released a list of America's 100 most innovative leaders that included only a single woman.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Tesla's Elon Musk tied for the top spot. The only woman on the list, Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores, clocked in at 75.

The reaction to the glaring lack of women was swift and sharp.

Replies to Resma Saujani's tweet include politician Stacey Abrams, makeup brand Glossier founder Emily Weiss, Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code, Refugee Coffee Company CEO Kitti Murray, Spanx inventor Sara Blakely, Rihanna and Serena Williams.

And in case Forbes needed more names, dozens of female CEOs — 57 at last count, including designer Stella McCartney; Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted; and Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor — signed an open letter to Forbes. Written by journalist Diana Kapp, author of the book Girls Who Run The World, the letter calls on the magazine to "overhaul the criteria that determines who makes the cut."

Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of genetic testing company 23andMe, signed Kapp's letter in hopes that it would encourage better representation.

"People are just acutely aware now of the importance of diversity," Wojcicki tells All Things Considered. "And when something is so blatantly missing — a whole population — it's really surfaced and it comes to the attention of everyone now."

And she says such titles aren't just about bragging rights.

"People do think about these lists," she says. "They go online and think about board members or advisers and who it is that can help solve a problem. I think there are real ripple effects when this kind of press dominates. It's not just one article. It's how in general women are perceived."

Wojcicki says she's glad Forbes has admitted fault and is forming a task force to make sure this mistake isn't repeated. But at its root, she sees this as a problem with oversight.

"It's kind of shocking that this actually got through," she says. "I would love to see their editorial policy of diversity represented at the top when they're starting to think about 'what are the lists we're going to put out?'"

When asked who she would put on that list of innovative leaders, she immediately mentioned her sister, Susan Wojcicki, a co-founder of Google and current CEO of YouTube.

"There's just a tremendous number of women out there who are phenomenal leaders."

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Forbes is out with a list of America's 100 most innovative leaders. Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Tesla's Elon Musk are tied for the top spot. And the list has created all kinds of buzz, mostly because 99 of the 100 are, like Bezos and Musk, men. You have to scroll down to No. 75 to find the one and only woman who made the cut, Barbara Rentler, the CEO of Ross Stores. All this has prompted several dozen other female CEOs to write an open letter in protest - among them, Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of the genetic testing company 23andMe.

Anne Wojcicki, welcome.


KELLY: How'd you hear about this list? And what was your first reaction?

WOJCICKI: You know, it's interesting. I'm actually out on maternity leave. And the number of people who emailed me this list, saying sort of, we're outraged, and, can you believe that this is still happening, was pretty remarkable. Even - you know, I had to do a blood draw, and even the nurse there said, you know, I can't believe that these types of lists are still happening without better representation. So...

KELLY: Oh, wow. The nurse who was taking your blood had seen this list and was mad about it.

WOJCICKI: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's really - I think people are just acutely aware now of, you know, one, the importance of diversity, you know, and when something is so blatantly, you know, missing a whole population. It's really surfaced, and it comes to the attention of everyone now. It's a hot topic.

KELLY: One thing that struck me from this letter that you all cosigned is that this is not just about, you know, women not having bragging rights by being on this list - that there are ripple effects, that a list like this influences things like who might get tapped for boards or who gets asked to speak at big conferences, right?

WOJCICKI: Yeah. I think there's - I mean, when there's a recognition that there's a power of, you know, these types of list, there's a power of brands, people do think about these lists. You know, they'll look online and think about board members or think about, you know, advisers and who is it that can help solve a problem. And I think there are real ripple effects when, you know, this kind of press dominates. You know, it's not just one article, but it's how, in general, you know, women are perceived - and minorities - and the influence that we can have on not just the companies that we're currently working with, but how we can actually influence other companies.

KELLY: So Forbes has since issued a mea culpa. The editor of Forbes, Randall Lane, tweeted, we blew it. He says they've launched a task force, that they're going to learn from this. Is that enough?

WOJCICKI: You know, I think I - I love it when people come out and actually say, you know, we really screwed this up, and we recognize. It's kind of shocking, in some ways, considering how much that they have advocated for women in the past, that they've actually published articles about how diversity makes better companies. It's kind of shocking that this actually got through. So I think one of the things I would love to see is actually not just the mea culpa of, like, hey, we have to review this, but there's clearly an issue about how this actually got to a publication without further oversight. So I would love to actually see their editorial policy of, like, you know, diversity represented at the top when they're starting to think about, what are the lists that we're going to be putting out?

KELLY: Who should've made this list? If I asked you to nominate your top two or three women who deserve to be included, who would they be?

WOJCICKI: Oh, well, I'd have to think about it. I mean, I clearly - the person I sort of respect the most that I know obviously is my sister.

KELLY: Who's your sister?

WOJCICKI: Oh, Susan Wojcicki, who runs YouTube. You know, there's an amazing number of - you know, Sara Blakely who, you know - again, one of those women who made it on her own who just...

KELLY: Spanx.


KELLY: Yep, I'm wearing them right now.

WOJCICKI: I have a - yeah (laughter). I have to go buy some today (laughter).

KELLY: Yes (laughter).

WOJCICKI: You know, there's just a tremendous number of women out there who are phenomenal leaders.

KELLY: Anne Wojcicki, thank you.

WOJCICKI: Thank you so much. Pleasure to talk.

KELLY: Glad to speak with you. She is the CEO of 23andMe.

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