Monday, August 29, 2011

Doing the Math - Women and Power

Doing the math. Powerful women account for 5:63 of the Forbes 'Most Powerful People on the Planet' list. That's 1:13 (rounded up). While that's probably an improvement on the past, there is still a long way to go, given that the human sex ratio is still roughly equal.
More interesting to me are the 5 powerful females, the fields they are in and the relation of their position in the All Powerful list compared to the Women's Own list.
1st amongst Women is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, 6th in the All Stars.
2nd Woman is Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, 20th in the All Stars.
3rd Woman is Dilma Roussef, President of Brazil, 16th in the All Stars.
7th Woman is Sonia Gandhi, President of India NCP, 9th in the All Stars.
14th Woman is Oprah Winfrey, Media Personality, 64th in the All Stars.
Doing the math. There are 9 women ahead of Oprah on the Women's Own list who don't get a look in on the 'really' powerful list. Why not? These women are largely in the business fields. They are CEOs and COOs and MDs. For women, that's a pretty big deal obviously, but one that doesn't cut it in the 'real' world. This gender imbalance is interesting because there are two apparent issues.
One is that the methodologies for choosing each list were subtly different although Forbes appear to be selecting by the same criteria; power, as shown by wealth, size of empire and influence. Subtle differences in selection criteria, i.e. appearance perhaps, show the impact of that selection bias can sneakily have in many fields leading to gender and race imbalances.
The second really interesting thing though is the evidence of female and male cultural spheres. This gender bias is still going strong from the bottom, to the pointy end of the most powerful people. Women are still nurses, teachers and entertainers. Men are still businessmen, bankers and engineers.
The problem with that is the overt way in which power is not evenly distributed across occupations. Didn't Angela McRobbie say that 'if visibility equalled power, teenage girls would rule the world'. Still doing the math. The figures show an exponential decrease in power as occupation changes from 'masculine' to 'feminine'. Oprah is 14th in the Powerful Women list but only 64th on the All Powerful list.
The entire All Powerful list is comprised entirely of rulers, CEOs and MDs. The only entertainment aside from Oprah is the inclusion of Julian Assange in last place. Women's power even in the rarified Forbes business world reflects a lower level of penetration and a feminine touch. About one third of powerful women are heads of small countries or large NGOs. About a third of powerful women are running female centric businesses, media, fashion and health oriented. The remaining powerful women are split between entertainers, women with inherited or partner given power and some really powerful people who nonetheless, aren't powerful enough to make the top list of 'really' powerful people.
No wonder women are bad at math. Nothing ever adds up right.

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