Naming and Faming: Forbes’ Power Women

Forbes’ list of Most Powerful Women for this year is out and Angela Merkel has come out on top again, for the 7th time in the last 8 years. I was struck by the number of American women on the list simply by glancing at it. When I went through the entire list of 100 women, I realized that an astounding 58 were American. Does this mean that other countries are not producing ‘powerful women’?

Well, let’s look at how Forbes decides who is a powerful woman. According to the magazine, 250 candidates are picked each year, out of which 100 are picked across 7 fields – billionaires, business, lifestyle (entertainment and fashion), media, nonprofits and NGOs, politics and technology. Three variables are then used to decide one’s overall rank as well the rank within the category to which she belongs: money, media presence and impact. While money and media presence are calculated using fairly standard metrics (see here), ‘impact’ is measured by the “extent of their reach across industries, cultures and countries, numbers of spheres of influence and people they affect, and how actively they wield their power.” The extremely poor operationalization (if one can even call it that) of this third crucial variable ‘impact’ might be the reason why the list is so US-centric. Or maybe I have some idealistic conception of what ‘impact’ means in that it should affect the lives of people around the world, especially women, positively. Otherwise, I’d be hard pressed to believe that someone like Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, or Jenna Lyons, Creative Director of J. Crew, is actually influencing a wide spectrum of society in any manner, let alone positive.

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