The Jobs That Make Women Powerful
Only five women graced Forbes' the World's Most Powerful People list last year (German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian political leader Sonia Gandhi in the Top 10), a showing poor enough for 2010 to dishearten even the most gung-ho feminist. With this backdrop, Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Women list is a soul-stirring read. Women are making their names in the fields of politics, business, nonprofits, media and money-making, as well as the realm of celebrity, a category almost entirely absent from Forbes' gender-neutral ranking.
Lady Gaga (pictured), Beyonce Knowles, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Palin, Ellen Degeneres, Gisele Bündchen, and J.K. Rowling all make the list, alongside news media stars like Diane Sawyer, Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry and Greta Van Susteren. Running a media empire is also a good ticket to world-ranking power: Jill Abramson, Tina Brown, Arianna Huffington, Anna Wintour and Helen Boaden all make the cut.
On Forbes' Most Powerful People list, on the other hand, the only figures who aren't leaders of nations, religions, businesses, or international organizations (like the U.N., the Federal Reserve, Al Qaida, the Sinaloa drug cartel) are Oprah Winfrey, Julian Assange, and Bill Keller, the then executive editor of the New York Times.
This difference comes down to methodology.
The Forbes' Most Powerful People list takes into account traditional measures of influence: the number of people the individual wields power over (a country's population, for a political leader; devotees, for a religious one), and money.
Figures who exercise their influence in multiple domains, like a Bloomberg, get bonus points, while those who exercise their influence very little, like the 85-year-old founder of IKEA, are disqualified.
These results are filtered through the savvy minds of seven geopolitical experts, averaged, and then sent to the printers.
"If you applied that same methodology to the World's Most Powerful Women you'd get a boring list," Michael Noer, the executive editor of special projects at Forbes, told AOL Jobs. "You'd get a lot of government ministers from second-tier countries."
So Caroline Howard, the deputy online editor of Forbes Women, brought in another dimension to her calculations: media presence. She added up TV and radio appearances over the last 12 months, along with Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube views. She measured, in her words: "power as reach."
This measurement also gives those skilled at courting the media a boost over those who hold traditional posts of power. Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, for example, beats Nancy Pelosi, the prime ministers of Australia and Thailand, the presidents of Liberia and Costa Rica, and the queens of Jordan and England.
"It's pretty apparent that women succeed in the media fields," said Howard. "Women are able to rise in positions of power in media, while they haven't been able to rise to other positions of power in the same way."
If Forbes' Most Powerful People list were also to include this metric, it would open its gates to more women, who seem to be creating more platforms of soft power outside of the rock hard power of traditional geopolitics.
But Noer thinks his list is "very very accurate" as it stands.
"I don't need to use a proxy," he said. "If you look at media influence, you have to look at how many people are influenced by your choices, your Oprah's Book Club or whatever it is. But for the Prime Minister of Japan, I know who he has power over -- the people of Japan."
"I'm not using it as a proxy," Howard clarified. "It's a very legitimate measure."
Women are big in the backstage of the new media too. Howard calls it the "rise of lady geeks," who include Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Marissa Mayer and Susan Wojcicki of Google, Katie Stanton of Twitter, and Carol Bartz of Yahoo!, all but one of whom are also among the 10 youngest on the list.
Outside the cloud, Cher Wang, whose company HTC makes one of every five smartphones, and Safra Catz, president of software giant Oracle, would also be good company in this camp.
Throw in Anne Sweeney of Disney and Sue Naegle of HBO, and around one quarter of the Most Powerful Women are wielding their power with, around, and through media in some form. But a significant majority of women are flexing their muscles in the traditional ways: leading nations, running non-media-based business, and making billions. They're also heading some of the biggest nonprofits, another sector missing from The World's Most Powerful People, apart from Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Most Powerful Women list can reassure the dampened feminist; women have, after all, made it to the top rung in every possible category. Except, that is, the one job most resistant to change -- that of mediator between God and man.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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