Jane Caro

Forbes’ Thick Layer of Men (With Apologies to Laura Liswood)

Forbes published a list of the most innovative leaders in America today. Surprisingly, they found room for only one woman. But hey, what are we complaining about, right?


So, dreary old Forbes magazine have published a list of the 100 most “innovative” leaders in America. A list which consists of ninety-nine male CEOs of companies worth $10 billion in market value and one woman. But, hey, ladies, what are you complaining about? There’s a chick in there and one chick represents all you women, doesn’t it? After all, there was a time when including even one woman was an innovation in itself.

As recently as two years ago (before the explosion around #MeToo), as long as there was one (usually white) woman at the board table, on the panel, on the list, in the program, or in the department, you could get away with it. No women might have become hard to justify, but appoint one and the job was done, and you could get back to business as usual. Hey, with a little luck, she might even pour the tea and pass the biscuits. And, at the very least, you could trot her out to take the flak whenever you were attacked as being sexist.



Let’s forget the basic injustice of regarding the exclusion of half the human race (and the better-educated half at that) as so unremarkable as to be invisible, let’s just consider the delicious irony of a list purporting to be celebrating innovation being, well, so hopelessly old-fashioned and out of date. And women – they’ve been getting very uppity lately – have been quick to point out how bizarre the list is. The backlash on social media has been so intense that Forbes have been forced to admit that “they blew it” and that the process they used to compile the list was hopelessly flawed and self-referential.

Mind you, you have to wonder just how good Forbes is at its job (they’re meant to be communication specialists, after all, or as I prefer to call them – writers) when it explains itself using convoluted corporate-speak like this: “… we believe that a leader’s ability to successfully drive innovation largely boils down to something we call innovation capital, a multifaceted set of characteristics that allows the leader to acquire and effectively deploy the human and financial resources required to take a risky and novel idea and turn it into an innovation with impact.”

Anyone got any idea what that actually means? Anyone? I am afraid I can’t help wondering whether they just compiled a list of important CEOs and slapped the title “innovative” on them. After all, it quickly filled some space in the mag and, who knows, flattery being what it is, they may have hoped it’d bring with it some grateful advertising dollars.


The very fact that a buffoon like Trump won over a serious woman like Clinton is proof of how tenaciously we cling to the decidedly non-innovative idea that leaders are men – literally, in Trump’s case, any man.


It reminds me of how people kept telling me that Hillary Clinton was the conventional candidate for the presidency while Trump and Sanders were the unconventional alternatives.

On one level, that is true, and if there had been plenty of female presidents over the last 250 years, I’d have had no argument, but the very fact that a buffoon like Trump won over a serious woman like Clinton is proof of how tenaciously we cling to the decidedly non-innovative idea that leaders are men – literally, in Trump’s case, any man. Forget the “multifaceted set of characteristics,” the only facet we really seem to value resides between the CEO’s legs.

Despite the fact Forbes appears to have completely missed it, the #MeToo movement has started to make a real difference to the opportunities available to women. It has been particularly obvious on popular panel shows like the BBC’s QI (Quite Interesting) where for years it was rare to see a female panelist granted the right to sit alongside the men. Now the show is hosted by a woman – Sandy Toksvig – and there are often multiple female panelists at the hallowed desk! Pass the smelling salts, women really are destroying the joint!

Decades ago, feminist Laura Liswood pointed out that there was no such thing as a glass ceiling, just a thick layer of men.

Forbes magazine may be slow to notice the real innovation that is taking place in our society, but it seems that the thick layer (and I use the adjective advisedly) is finally getting thinned out.

Time to get with the program, gents.


Jane Caro

Jane Caro has a low boredom threshold and so wears many hats, including: author, novelist, lecturer, mentor, social commentator, columnist, workshop facilitator, speaker, broadcaster, and award-winning advertising writer.

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