CEOs of Wildfang, Salt & Straw, Zapproved call out Forbes for one-woman list – Portland Business Journal


Eight prominent Oregon CEOs signed an open letter to Forbes magazine challenging the publication to rethink its list methodology when it comes to measuring leadership and innovation.

Emma Mcilroy, CEO of Wildfang; Kim Malek, founder of Salt & Straw; Pat Welch, founder and CEO of Boly:Welch; Monica Enand, founder and CEO of Zapproved; Debra Turner Hatcher, founder of A to Z Wineworks; Lynn Le, founder and CEO of Society Nine; Liz Valentine CEO and co-founder of Swift and now CEO of Wunderman Thompson; and Jamie Danek, founder and CEO of Bend’s Humm Kombucha all signed the letter. 

Their names are alongside leaders such as Stella McCartney, founder of Stella McCartney; Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe; and Ellen Pao, CEO of Project Include.

The move comes after the venerable list-maker released a list over the weekend ostensibly ranking “America’s most innovative leaders.” However, the findings had a glaring issue: the list was composed of 99 men and one woman, Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores.

The response online was swift, and Forbes has issued two public apologies for the oversight — one from editor Randall Lane and one from Moira Forbes, publisher of ForbesWomen.

The letter to Forbes was written by journalist and author Diana Kapp. A copy of the letter was published Wednesday on the NPR website.

“We must revise the metrics that underpin this list beyond market cap, size of network, and how far market expectations exceed market value,” the letter states. “Adding a woman to the team of three male researchers who developed them would be a start, as Vogue suggested. We should be judging industry transformation and societal impact.”

Lane noted in his mea culpa that the criteria for the list looked at public companies mostly worth $10 billion or more. This in turn skewed the results to health care and tech. That, he said, showed the lack of women leaders in those businesses.

In other words, for all our carefully calibrated methodology, women never had much of a chance here,” he wrote. He said the magazine will use this as a learning moment.

“Our methodology was flawed, as well — at a minimum when it came to being more expansive with who was eligible to be ranked. While each data point individually made logical sense, as did focusing on data-rich public companies, the entire exercise collapses if the possible ranking pool doesn’t correlate at least somewhat with the overall pool of innovative talent. It would be intellectually dishonest to construct a methodology designed to generate a predetermined result, but in this case the forest got lost in the trees,” he wrote.

For her part, Kapp lays out many innovations brought to market by the women who signed the letter. They cover everything from changing HR practices, genetics, fashion and beauty products.

It would be hard to overestimate the change that Anne Wojcicki’s introduction of the personal genetic test at 23andMe has brought to personal lives and futures. Cancers have been avoided, long-lost families reunited, heart attacks prevented. The same could be said about Sara Blakely cutting up a pair of pantyhose and creating her shapewear empire Spanx, which alters how millions of women feel about themselves every single day,” the letter states.

Kapp is the author of an upcoming book highlighting women CEOs called “Girls Who run the World: 31 CEOs Who Mean Business.

She said her book came out of lists like this one that highlight the work of men and promote the idea that business is a man’s domain. Such lists, the letter states, has a broader effect on the business world and can influence who is tapped for board seats or asked to speak at events.

“I spent the last year and a half working on a book to inspire young girls to expect to be CEOs,” she said.

Kapp did get a response from both Lane and Forbes as well as one of the researchers on the list. All said the experience used to do better in the future and make sure such an oversight doesn’t happen again.

Initially, Kapp sent the letter to women who are in the book, but it was passed along through networks and people immediately asked to sign on.

Kapp is still taking signatures and is trying to promote the hashtag #innovationforall.

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