As a daughter and father we have lots of conversations about a wide range of topics: life as a teenager (Morgan), life as a parent (Seth) and the challenges of growing up, taking responsibility, and pursuing our passions (both of us). And as Morgan is growing into a young woman, we are increasingly talking about female empowerment, about the way society treats women and girls, and how sometimes it still sadly shocks both of us when we see one-sided celebrations of successful men that include too few successful women. This past week we had exactly one of those discussions.
It all started when Morgan noticed the November copy of the Harvard Business Review had arrived in the mail. The cover story exclaims that inside the magazine are insights “from the leaders who top our 2016 list of the world’s best CEOS.” Curious at what that list looked like, imagine the thoughts going through a 14-year-old girl’s mind when she realized that list included only two women (not to mention a minimal number of male CEOs who were not white!) HBR’s methodology uses objective criteria they have experimented with over the years, and they have heard the criticism about the lack of women before. In his letter from the editor (titled “Where Are the Women?”) Adi Ignatius acknowledges a “dispiriting absence of women,” noting that only 3% of 886 companies studied are led by women. Nonetheless, the cover story doesn’t say “our objectively defined list of predominantly male leaders that have been elevated to CEOs of major companies partially as a result of a global business culture that still strongly is prejudiced against opportunities for women to do the same.” It says… “list of the world’s best CEOs.”
Well, that might be Harvard Business Review’s objectively determined opinion, but it isn’t ours. That’s not to say they don’t have the privilege to decide their own list of what makes a “best CEO,” but any list that has too few women reinforces the perception that the best CEOs aren’t women. What message does that send to girls seeking role models on the “best of” lists she sees? What message does that send to their fathers who believe they too have a responsibility to speak up and name those things that reinforce blatant and latent sexism that is very much part of our business culture? Can it be possibly true, that as daughters and fathers we need to accept that only two of the 100 “best CEOs” are women?
No, it’s not true, and we are not going to accept it. We don’t have a magazine staff to help us make a list, but maybe everyone reading this will help shift this conversation from outrage to opportunity and share their ideas of who and how we can recognize the best women CEOs that should be included in any “best of” list. So as a daughter/father project we are curious find out two things (in the spirit of the HBR article). First, who are the 100 (or 500, or 1000) best WOMEN CEOs in the world, and second, what’s on THEIR minds? Maybe these women leaders themselves will share essays and observations about what keeps them up at night?
Because we both know what keeps us up at night (which is unfortunate, because one of us needs to go to school tomorrow while the other one goes to work): how can we become the very best we can be when we aren’t given the chance to really have a complete picture of those who are the best? And are we really expected to believe that only 3% of the best CEOs in the world are women? We don’t believe it.
So help us prove them wrong.