Going global? I don’t think so
For the uninitiated , The Forbes list, a compilation of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women was published last month with a gallery of a 100 “power women”. Like many I have issues with it, although I don’t want to detract from any woman, anywhere, having any degree of success. All of these nominated ladies are clearly talented with signficant achievements in their fields, but to claim that this makes them powerful in a global context seems a huge stretch and at times simply nonsense.
Michele Obama comes in at # 1. Irene B. Rosenfeld is second as Chairman and CEO of Kraft (Revenue $40 billion, employees 97000). But Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, the country ranked 3rd or 5th in the world in terms of GDP ( depending on which stats you use) and a population of 82 million people, lags behind at #4, a drop of 3 places from 2009. This is a nonsense bit – or at least one of them.
Even a quick count indicated that 70% of the nominees are American. There are also no less than 4 US show biz personalities in the top 10. About a quarter are celebrities, some major and some pretty minor. One of the reasons I suspect this has happened is because Forbes confuses the notion of power with influence, but perhaps we’re all confused anyway. The term power has become so overworked and overused in current vernacular which doesn’t help. We have power hose, power hitter, power nap and now we have ” power women.” The line between power and influence has always been fine, however, one thing I believe is that power is perceived to be direct and influence as indirect.
Global Gender Gap Report
The World Economic Forum report on gender equality, examining 4 main areas: education, economy, health and politics. came out within days of the Forbes report. The United States moved into the top 20 this year for the first time (up from #31). This progress mainly comes from the number of women appointed to the Obama administration. Many of those are on the Forbes list, but ranked lower than some celebs! I’m not sure they should be acknowledged in front of Scandinavian women leaders who succeeded in reaching between 80% and 83% equality in the four areas under analysis for their countries.
I’m a huge fan of Michele Obama. She’s bright, intelligent and she hugs. However, does being the wife of the world’s most powerful man, make her the world’s most powerful woman? I don’t think so. She earned this position because she is the wife of Barak. Does it make her a very influential woman within a certain sphere? Yes of course it does. This will also apply to Melinda Gates #27 ( wife of Bill richest man in the world). Do they have more power than say Elizabeth II (#42)? I think even non Brits would dispute that.
Seemingly the list was compiled around a “buzz factor “, moving away from wealth and corporate achievements as the main male focused KPIs for inclusion on this list, as Moira Forbes, the vice president and publisher of Forbes Woman elaborates ” The women on our list, through their respective realms of power and influence, are shaping many of the agenda-setting conversations of our day,” This is where it goes horribly wrong in a global context
So why not call it ” Women who generate buzz primarily in the USA”?
What is ” buzz” anyway?
There are many women who generate buzz as anyone who picks up a tabloid in any language, in any country in the world would know. This doesn’t necessarily make them influential and especially doesn’t make them powerful. Will the traction of these US celebrities and many of the politicians be the same in Brussels, Berlin or Bangalore? I don’t think so. I’m not sure Ellen Degeneres’ influence would extend to Essex let alone Egypt. Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister of France, #43, comes in behind Chelsea Handler seemingly a talk show host #33. Who do you think generates the most buzz in France? We might talk about Martha Stewart ( #97 Lifestyle guru) but possibly more about her jail time. Some lifestyle!
So how do you measure, qualitatively assess and define this concept “buzz” anyway? Column inches? YouTube or TV mentions, paparazzi pics? Pay check? Direct reports or population counts? Do Beyoncé and Lady Gaga generate more significant agenda setting conversations than Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf President of Liberia, coming in at #78. Possibly not in Africa or Julia Gillard Prime Minister of Australia #58. I doubt it. We may not sit around discussing Angela Merkel’s outfit or diet at the last G20 summit, but does she have more global clout than Michele Obama or Oprah Winfrey? I think so.
So where does that leave the average woman skimming through this list as one does, possibly no further than the top 10 entries? The choice of Michele Obama as #1,re-enforces the age-old stereotype that a woman’s power and influence is directly related to the position of her husband. It encourages us yet again, to buy into the culture of celebrity, in this case with a strong US bias, which for most women is light years away from their daily lives, even to the point of being misleading. I also wonder if it seems to attach lower value to political and other achievements than the media and fashion. This is not to deny the influence of some of those listed women, but to show the limitations of this type of list.
Most women I have discussed this concept with have suggested that the most powerful women in their lives have been local: women they have worked with or have had some impact on them in a direct sometimes even fleeting way, professionally, socially or some other personal relationship. There’s no way to put that in a list.
However, Beyoncé does come up on the spell check. Perhaps that’s the new global metric of having power.
What do you think?