The World’s Most Powerful Women?

August 29, 2011

Forbes released its infamous lists this past week. And while women get their own list,  the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, I’m left wondering what story this really tells us about women’s leadership in the world.

While it’s a neat idea to honor women’s accomplishments, putting women in a list by themselves could be misleading. Once you look at the World’s Most Powerful People list, you see 68 names; only seven of them are women. That’s about 10 percent. Only two of those women are from the United States, and only one works for our government: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It’s just one more disappointing illustration of the underrepresentation women have in politics and top decision-making positions in general. In addition, there is a striking imbalance across age groups. Being a younger woman myself, I appreciate Forbes taking a look at who they consider the 20 Youngest Power Women. Unfortunately, only six of them are under 40 years old. Are there really not enough women my age who are powerful? For instance, there is not a single U.S. woman politician listed on this “young” Forbes list.

Sure, we can analyze and possibly critique Forbes’ formula for determining the most powerful women in the world. But I think the story these lists point to is an even larger issue: the lack of powerful women leaders as role models. Women in the United States only make up about 17 percent of seats in Congress — less than one-fifth — even though we make up over half the population.

We need to jumpstart women’s leadership with programs like Elect Her–Campus Women Win and $tart $mart. Other groups have recognized this necessity as well, and that’s why AAUW collaborates with both Running Start and the WAGE Project to train women to run effective campaigns for student government and negotiate for equitable pay. If we can get more women to see themselves as political leaders on campus, they will be more likely to continue on in leadership positions after college. And if we can train more young women to be effective negotiators at work, they will be more likely to avoid the gender wage gap and have the confidence to ask for those promotions. By investing in these experiences in college, the next generation of women may well be named on Forbes’ list sooner rather than later.

What younger woman would you add to the World’s Most Powerful Women list?

Kate Farrar By:   |   August 29, 2011

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