This month, Forbes released its list of Most Innovative Leaders. Of the 100 names on the list, one was a woman. Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, as a reminder it's 2019. There are exactly zero women of color or LGBTQ women represented, and there are more men named "Stanley" than women. Depressing doesn't begin to cover how I feel.
But ultimately, I'm disappointed not just in the list, but in the broader narrative about women in leadership. Last year I ran a workshop on women's leadership and asked everyone in attendance (of all genders) to list admired executives. Their lists looked frighteningly similar to the Forbes list--male names flowed easily, but people struggled to name female executives outside of Sheryl Sandberg.
Moreover, when they could list women like Ursula Burns (former CEO of Xerox), Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM), or Sussan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube), participants could often cite the position, but could rarely recall the leader's full name. Simply put, we raise people of all genders to associate men with executive leadership, and it has a detrimental effect on how we think about, support, and promote leadership.
So what's the solution? My colleague Angela DeFranco said it best: "We need to arm leaders of all genders with the ability to 'name drop' female executives." So, here are five ways anyone, anywhere can help change how we think about gender and leadership, starting today:
1. Cite women in business presentations.
Business decks often include well-known quotes from Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet. But, when was the last time your company cited a female leader on stage? One of my colleagues noticed this same pattern and decided to help solve it with a free resource anyone can use called #QuoteMoreWomen, making it easy to reference more female leaders and their perspectives in presentations. Consider the gender balance of who you're quoting because doing so sets a powerful tone for your organization.
2. Take a hard look at who you follow.
Your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium feeds determine what you read on a regular basis. So take a look at the folks you follow and see if you can improve the gender, racial, socioeconomic, geographic, or any other form of diversity in who you learn from.
In addition to diversifying the content you see and share, you'll also diversify the job postings you see, leaders you learn from, and create a pool of potential candidates, speakers, leaders, and networking connections for many years to come.
3. Update your imagery.
When you look at your organization's website, jobs page, internal and external collateral, email templates, and marketing materials, how are women represented, if at all? Often, even when women are represented, they tend to be white women in more junior, administrative, or support roles.
The next time you organize a photoshoot or select an image for a campaign, ensure you're thoughtful about the composition of the imagery and what it conveys about gender and leadership at your company to your customers, candidates and employees.
4. Change the face of Wikipedia.
In 2016, just 17 percent of Wikipedia entries were women. Given the power of Wikipedia in search globally, telling women's stories and sharing the profiles of well-known women is absolutely critical to changing the narrative long-term. Pick your favorite female executive and consider updating Wikipedia to feature their profile using Wikipedia's public guidelines.
Sound like too heavy a lift? Spend five minutes exploring Wikipedia entries of women you may not yet know, such as Alice Perry, the first person to graduate with an engineering degree in EMEA, Phuti Mahanyele, a South African CEO who's leading the way on innovation and growth in Africa, or Robyn Denholm, the Australian executive who now serves as Chair of Tesla Motors.
5. Drop the mic.
Research shows that women speak less and for shorter intervals of time in business settings than their male counterparts, a phenomenon Professor Deborah Tannen attributes to not wanting to take up too much verbal or physical space due to social conditioning that results in women being less heard in the workplace.
At your next meeting, company presentation, board meeting, or huddle, identify one way to ensure that women get to present or speak more publicly and without interruption. Doing so means their ideas are more likely to be heard and celebrated, an important step in creating space for women to thrive in the workplace.
If you're mad about Forbes' list, you're certainly not alone. I am too. But every year, it seems a conference like CES or a magazine like Forbes "can't find" a female leader, and we never get to the crux of the issue. Without female leaders that we regularly reference, admire, and promote, we'll never achieve gender parity in lists, recognition, or leadership roles.