Sheila Gibbons

(WOMENSENEWS)–What do Queen Elizabeth II, J.K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey have in common?

Answer: They’re all on Forbes Magazine’s July 28 list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

The women on Forbes "power rankings" are chosen according to three elements. There’s the resume (a prime minister trumps a senator). There’s the size of the economic sphere over which a leader held sway (large national treasuries and corporate coffers count for more than smaller ones). And then there are the blips on the media radar, which Factiva, a Dow Jones company, tallied for Forbes.

Like all lists–top 100 movies, top 100 books, top 100 cities–this has an inherent taxonomic interest. After all, we all want to know who’s who and what’s what so it’s instructive to know that Forbes–aided by Catalyst, the women’s business research outfit, Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, and Elizabeth Ryan of Worldwit, a women’s business group–thinks Condoleezza Rice leads the pack of alpha females. And who knew that Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, would pop up in 93rd place?

The list also includes women who are partners of powerful men, such as Laura Bush (No. 46), Cherie Booth Blair (No. 62) and Queen Rania of Jordan (No. 80).

It’s also interesting–in the ghoulish way of reality TV elimination shows–to see who’s disappeared since Forbes compiled the list for the first time in 2004. Gone now is Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former president of Indonesia, who lost her re-election contest in September 2004. Carleton (Carly) Fiorina, forced to resign as the head of Hewlett-Packard this past February, is also off the list.

Assessing Power the Old-Fashioned Way

But the odd thing about a list like this, which assesses power the old fashioned way–by economic clout and media attention–is that it mainly serves to show how few women are actually at the pinnacles of power.

To test this theory, just cast your eye over the top 10:

  1. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
  2. Wu Yi, vice premier and minister of health, China
  3. Yulia Tymoshenko, prime minister, Ukraine
  4. Gloria Arroyo, president, the Philippines
  5. Margaret Whitman, CEO, eBay
  6. Anne Mulcahy, CEO, Xerox
  7. Sallie Krawcheck, CFO, Citigroup
  8. Brenda Barnes, CEO, Sara Lee
  9. Oprah Winfrey, chair, Harpo
  10. Melinda Gates, co-founder, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

How many of these women ring loud bells of recognition? Yes, I personally know quite a lot about Condi Rice, Oprah and Melinda Gates. But Wu Yi? Brenda Barnes? It’s not that they’re not important people–they certainly are–it’s just that the media have not made them household names.

Men Dominate the Media

Women’s media profile, in fact, is so low that if this were a list of the world’s most powerful people–male or female–very few on this list would make the lineup since men dominate the airwaves and newspapers to such a profound degree.

For years, study after study has put newspaper front-page mentions of women in a range of between 20 percent and 25 percent, with women having less visibility in business and sports sections, somewhat more in metro and lifestyle pages.

Television, particularly Sunday morning talk shows where influential newsmakers appear, also tends to bypass women, even those of the stature on the Forbes’ list. And a female newsmaker on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report is still a rarity.

At the end of the day, what’s most intriguing to me about this list of supposedly highly visible and economically powerful women is how many names I don’t recognize and believe I should.

There are women such as Helen Clark, prime minister of New Zealand (No. 24), Mary Sammons, CEO of Rite-Aid (No.27), on whose pharmacies I depend, Ann Moore, chair and CEO, Time, Inc., (No. 38) and Nancy Barry, president of Women’s World Banking (No. 98).

Articles to Write, Stories to Broadcast

Surely there are more articles to be written, stories to be broadcast, movies and TV specials to be made on all these women, who also include Nobel Peace laureates Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (No. 15) and Wangari Maathai of Kenya (No. 68).

A number of women on Forbes’ list have lived and worked outside of the celebrity limelight yet still wield enormous clout. These include Zoe Cruz, acting president of Morgan Stanley (No. 16); Ann Livermore, executive vice president of the technology solutions group, Hewlett-Packard (No. 20); and Safra Catz, president of Oracle (No. 22).

All of us would benefit by knowing more about the women Forbes has called the world’s most powerful, and about the work they do and the lives they influence.

And right there on the list are media executives who could use their high visibility and clout to make that happen.

In addition to Winfrey and Moore, plus NBC’s Katie Couric (No. 47) and ABC’s Diane Sawyer (No. 55), there is a full dozen more: Marjorie Scardino, CEO, Pearson (No. 18); Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group (No. 33); Judy McGrath, CEO, MTV Networks (No. 49); Amy Pascal, vice chair, Motion Picture Group, Sony Entertainment (No. 50); Stacey Snider, chair, Universal Pictures, (No. 59); Gail Berman, president, Paramount Pictures (No. 69); Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent, CNN (No. 72); Karen Elliott House, publisher, The Wall Street Journal, (No. 73); Janet Robinson, CEO, The New York Times Co (No. 77); Christie Hefner, CEO, Playboy Enterprises (No. 90); Cathleen Black, president, Hearst Magazines, (No. 91); and Martha Nelson, managing editor, People (No. 92).

So, OK sisters, how about it?

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism," Strata Publishing, Inc., which received the "Texty" Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association, and of "Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.



For more information:–
The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2005:

Journal of Communication, March 2005–
Representation of Women in News and Photos:
Comparing Content to Perceptions:

Agenda Setting–Media Tenor International
Women Missing in Business Media

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