Fortune Only Has One Black Woman On Its “Most Powerful” List. Why?
By Ryan Velez
Fortune released its 20th annual Most Powerful Women list of 2017 last week, spotlighting 51 women who have made tremendous strides as leaders in some of the top companies in the world. Combined, the list features 26 CEOs that control over $1 trillion in market capitalization, nine women in tech. Some standouts include 41 year-old actress Reese Witherspoon, the youngest woman ever to make the list, as well as PG&E CEO Geisha J. Williams, the first Latina CEO to run a Fortune 500 company and to make the list. Notably, Ann Marie Campbell, who worked her way up from a Home Depot cashier to executive vice president of U.S. Stores, is on the list, and is the only Black woman to do so. Black Enterprise asks why such limited representation.
When they asked Fortune about their criteria for the list, the magazine explained that their methods were based on “the size and importance of the woman’s business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman’s career (résumé and runway ahead), and social and cultural influence.” They mentioned that names like Bozoma St. John and Rosalind Brewer were on their 10 powerful women to watch list. However, Black Enterprise asked why women like Shonda Rhimes; Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Tracey T. Travis, the EVP & CFO of The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.; and Kathy N. Waller, EVP & CFO, The Coca-Cola Co. were not included.
Fortune’s Ellen McGirt and Kristen Bellstrom explained the issue in greater detail, saying that all women needed to have an operational role in a large-scale company. We have a couple of CFO’s who have outside influence in their companies, but otherwise we really just consider women who are in operating positions.” This would leave out someone like Denise Young-Smith, the VP of Worldwide Human Resources at Apple Inc. Another person left out under these rules was Channing Dungey, who was appointed last year as president of ABC Entertainment, whose business wasn’t large enough. “We don’t have a lot of women in entertainment and it tends to be because the businesses that they control aren’t as large as some of these Fortune 500 companies,” Bellstrom explained.
To Fortune’s credit, McGirt didn’t shy away from the role that race played in this. She explained that the lack of Black women on these lists “reflect bigger systemic barriers that continue to exist” that have historically and continuously blocked African American women from advancing in corporate America. “Our list is a reflection of corporate America,” said Bellstrom, and this “is what corporate America looks like.”